unconscious bias

Patricia DuChene, GM EMEA and VP of Sales at Wrike, on how to tackle unconscious bias.

Business leaders can be vocal about their commitment to diversity, but in practice, many companies fail to achieve it. Despite HR efforts, PR campaigns and the good intentions of current hiring managers, we have yet to close the diversity gap, particularly between genders.

And it’s not just an ethical issue; it’s just plain bad for business. A McKinsey report released earlier this year revealed that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability than those with the least diverse workforces.

Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are often unintentional, yet able to influence behaviour. All humans have an unconscious bias that shape decisions, and it becomes especially apparent during the hiring process. Renowned author and speaker, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox noted: “The corporate world is led by men confident that they are identifying talent objectively and effectively. The reality is that decision making about talent is rife with unconscious assumptions and personal biases.”

In 2015, I left Silicon Valley to launch Wrike’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin – starting with two employees and quickly scaling to a team of more than 80. Here are a few things I have learned about confronting unconscious bias during my career, especially as I grew the Dublin team:

Keep talking about it

As a woman in tech, a woman in sales, and now a woman leading an office, I have experienced unconscious bias and all that it entails at nearly every major turn in my career. Therefore, it was at the forefront of my mind when building the team. If the first step to bridging the gender gap (or any issue) is awareness, then all leadership must recognise the importance of diversity and the insidious nature of unconscious bias. Don’t shy away from it – talk about it and make it a regular conversation topic. That way, people will be more aware of it.

Beware of ‘peer’ interviews

Peer interviews are a useful tool to see if your new candidate has the right soft skills and/or would be a positive contributor to the team culture. However, many companies use interviewing strategies, one being the “airport test” where you simulate an airport layover. The idea is to see whether the interviewer and interviewee can get along with each other during a social situation. This approach leads to peer interviewers giving higher scores to candidates they prefer to hang out with (rather than those who are more qualified) which means they are likely to be similar in character.

Create target numbers for the process

Diversity targets exist because they work. Taking a harder strategy towards the issue really helps. A starting place for those who may be new to diversity targets is to have at least one male and one female candidate make it to the final round for every role. We’ve mandated this in our company and it encourages the recruitment team to break out of their unconscious biases and expand their pool of candidates to ensure a good mix of applicants. This has helped us make some very strong and influential hires over the past three years in Dublin.

Answering ‘why’ and ‘how’ is crucial

During meetings, it’s important for people to take on specific roles. After an interview, HR should take on the role of asking how and why – for example “Why do you think that about the candidate? How did you come to this conclusion?” Answering these questions helps to identify the root source of feedback – these types of questions will quickly sniff out – and snuff out – unconscious bias.

Build diversity into working culture

Diversity is a huge advantage for a workplace. It allows an organization to be more flexible and responsive to the diverse needs of its clients or customers and it creates a more interesting working culture. You can foster inclusion by hosting a wide variety of events where people can share and show their culture at work.

Creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace doesn’t have to be a tremendous challenge. To move from theory to practice, companies need to talk about it, question it and act upon it. Companies that can overcome unconscious bias reap the benefits of both a happier workforce and revenue growth, so what are you waiting for?  Start the conversation with your team today and come up with a plan that will help your organization bridge the diversity gap.