Iris Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy, is a behavioral economist at Harvard Kennedy School
How do we avoid “unconscious bias“ to build a better society regarding gender equality?
Avoiding unconscious bias is almost impossible. Instead, we have to make it easier for our biased minds to get things right, or put differently, break the link between our biased beliefs and our actions. Awareness of one’s biases certainly is a first step in the right direction but to translate it into behavior, more is required than awareness. Much research suggests that awareness alone is not enough. However to learn about their own biases, people should take the Implicit Association Test.
Thousands of people have already taken the test and learned that they, too, were biased against people of certain races, cultures, genders, religions and even looks. For example, we tend to prefer tall men to short men or are more likely to trust more attractive than less attractive people. Of course, the evidence shows that attractive people are not more trustworthy but behave just like everyone else. But our biased minds quite literally cannot “see” this and instead, associate good looks with good behaviors.
Once aware of our biases, we can start to design around them, to keep them from affecting our behavior. For example, organizations might want to blind themselves to the “looks” and more generally, the demographic characteristics of job applicants. New software such as, e.g., APPLIED or UNITIVE, makes it easier for companies to do so.
The software allows hiring managers to quite literally liberate their minds to focus on talent instead of whether someone looks the part. My book offers 36 designs to de-bias organizational practices and procedures in talent management and elsewhere to level the playing field for everyone.