Addressing unconscious bias
5men How many of us would admit to believing that tall men make better CEOs than shorter men? Yet in a sample of the Fortune 500 CEOs, a third was 6 feet 2” or taller (compared to 3.9% of the American population). In fact, every inch a man stands over 6 feet is worth $789 dollars a year in salary, say researchers. In other words, that’s around €300 a year more for every centimeter over 1.82m.

According to such research in a number of areas1, height, weight, beauty, age, gender, obesity can all be triggers for unconscious bias in recruitment, for promotion or selecting internal teams. Overweight men apparently earn 2-3% less than colleagues of average weight, while overweight women earn 6-7% less. And 12-14% of workers have seemingly experienced some sort of appearance based discrimination.

Given this obstacle to the diversity and inclusiveness needed for companies to thrive, some like PWC, are heard to already be addressing ‘unconscious bias’ via training and awareness programmes. Raising awareness with managers and staff usually comes first. Exploring in a safe environment why we all have biases and prejudices and why so often many of these are irrational and illogical is generally a second step. Conducting an internal audit and setting targets for improvement comes next. Finally, working with staff and managers to achieve long term cultural and behavioural change follows.

Meanwhile, neuroscientist David Rock – a leading light in the Neuroleadership Institute2 - argues that many current selection processes feed biases, by encouraging the hire of people who look and sound like existing staff. He maintains that narcissists interview much better than non-narcissists. This is ironic, given that people do not much like working for narcissists and organisations are less effective when they are the top. Yet they perform very well in the hiring process to the extent that the tougher the interview, the better they do.

David Rock argues that leadership capability should be tested in a way that goes much deeper than a behavioural interview. He thinks that a simulated working environment for a week or two would be ideal, but clearly hard to realize. While he sees some value in psychometric testing, it has its limits. Rock believes that it’s more a question of people’s ability to crack code than anything else. It helps you identify clever people, that is obviously useful, but what’s clever about them is that they are able to see patterns in a test.

1for more examples of recent research and their sources: