And while it’s definitely one of the more absorbing aspects of recruitment, it can also be a painstaking process. Long, long gone (thankfully) are the old days when things like gender or accent were almost prerequisites for certain roles. In the 21st century, the professions have evolved to become much more diverse, as well as dynamic.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development defines managing diversity as “valuing everyone as an individual – valuing people as employees, customers and clients”. All of which sounds very reasonable indeed – but can we build a workplace that is free not just of ageism and other discrimination – but all forms of bias?
The vast majority of people seek fairness in their day-to-day dealings. For managers and HR professionals, though, fairness is arguably one of the most important parts of the job description – regardless of whether it’s highlighted in the contract or not. However, as with all things in business, there is always scope for improvement – and the recent talk of ‘affinity bias’ shows that there may still be some way to go before all playing fields are truly level. Affinity bias is the idea that – at often completely subconscious levels – our preconceptions can hold sway over out decision-making process.
Rather than booking HR managers in for gruelling sessions of psychology lectures, it may be enough just to highlight the existence of affinity bias – and show real-life examples of how it can detrimentally affect not just individuals but whole organisations. Preconceptions can be formed under a number of conditions, one of the primary examples being the media. Just type the words “traffic warden stereotypes” into a search engine and it’s a fair bet that the results returned will confirm just how built-up the stereotype has become. The results of a recent survey by AXA Business Insurance into the views and opinions of the UK’s van drivers, on the other hand, goes some way towards dismantling the “White Van Man” stereotype. Rather than the caricature we see all too often, the survey indicates that van drivers are – in the vast majority – helpful and more than willing to assist other road users in difficulty.
So, can we beat affinity bias? As I’ve hinted at above, a move in the right direction would be to provide concise information on it that will help managers and HR professionals develop a heightened level of insight into it. Let me sum up with some words from Durham University's Equality and Diversity Officer,who has this to say: unconscious bias remains a controversial area but embracing quality, diversity and inclusivity involves raising awareness, changing attitudes and changing behaviour”.