You are a racist, get over it

The 2018 Shipping Report opened my eyes to some interesting ideas and got me thinking about unconscious bias in hiring and talent management. You can download a copy of the report from The Lighthouse Company website and also watch the 10 brilliant manifestos that we heard on the night too. I was particularly warmed by Sanjay Nazerali’s plea for a return to seduction over stalking (in marketing), Kate Ward’s call for us to wake up to gender bias, and Caroline Casey’s passionate declaration to end discrimination against the disabled. Looking around the audience I saw a shift in the gender and ethnic mix from the last time I was there. I wonder how hard the team consciously worked to ensure a diverse audience (and such a talented group of speakers).

As an older, white-ish man, my post presentation mingling wasn’t as well balanced. Wanting to catch up with old pals and colleagues, I gravitated towards people like me, and as I was off the sauce, didn’t tread much outside of my comfort zone. On reflection, I am likely to have seen a limited reaction to the data and got a limited view. It’s not because I am a bad person, but it is clear that without a conscious effort to avoid our unconscious bias, we won’t make much progress.

One of the “boys” I met on the night shared a brilliant project that couples my fascination with innovative learning technology, with world class content on how to identify and eliminate bias at work. Touchcasts Unbias is a fully interactive learning experience that showcases some cool tech, while sharing some important messages. If you suspect your workplace has some way to go, then this is a tool you may want to investigate to open eyes and shift the direction of play in your business. For me it got me thinking about my own bias, and how it impacts the way I work, learn, love and live.

The first thing we all need to acknowledge is that as humans we are hardwired for bias and pre-programmed for prejudice. However well-intentioned we may be, our environment, media, and cultural surroundings lead us towards making judgements and decisions that reinforce stereotypes and inequality. Cognitive Bias is inevitable unless we work actively to challenge it, and without doing so we risk alienating and excluding potential talent, potential customers and potential innovation. The research suggests that you and your boss are consistently discriminating in ways you do not even realise. And your business is suffering unconsciously as a result. You are a racist – get over it and start to do something about it.

Your appearance at Rock Against Racism rallies in the 1980’s or singing in a mixed faith choir at school didn’t inoculate you against being prejudiced. I am going to have to admit it first, because to be the change I want to see in the world, I’ll have to accept Ghandi’s wisdom that it will start with me. I am a racist, and I am going to do all I can to get over it.

Much of my work focuses on helping commercial teams understand how their own unique strengths can be harnessed to connect with others, this is critical when we need to influence people at work who often see the world differently to ourselves. This focus on understanding “personality” is an invaluable tool to help people connect and collaborate effectively. Using some empirical science alongside the intuitive stuff we know about how people work always help my customers see the importance of adapting in order to connect more effectively. How it can be used to confront unconscious bias is now becoming clearer to me. If our recruitment and talent management processes are inherently likely to be impacted by our unconscious biases, how could we use psychometrics, and the understanding of personality to influence a more diverse and equitable workplace?

It starts with recognising the need to look beyond our own personal judgements to make unbiased decisions in our hiring, retention and talent management. What I am discovering rapidly is that so many internal job specs, and recruitment processes will only reinforce bias unless we challenge how it has always been done. What many Occupational Psychologists are now demonstrating conclusively is that if you map your roles consciously and intelligently and decide empirically what you need in a role, you can create Strength or Competency based frameworks that will support you making better decisions. More importantly I have discovered that the science can also accurately map behavioural preferences (what some call personality) to give useful indicators about a candidate’s suitability for a role. Shockingly, while I use personality portraits to improve the performance of many of our most successful sales teams, and most of the top FTSE 500 use them to develop their top talent, a mature use of this latest technology is absent from many talent management processes.

If you are being asked to help decide about talent recruitment or retention in the next few months, I urge you to do what you can to eliminate the evaluative bias that is the natural result of your own unconscious bias. Focusing on strengths and measuring those strengths through a valid psychometric assessment will help you to do that. Using these tools, and your own awareness to eliminate your bias will lead to better recruitment, more effective retention, and a more powerful utilisation of the talent in your teams.

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