Unconscious Bias - Making better decisions by making them more difficult

If we are very good at making quick decisions, it does not necessarily mean that we are very clever. It might just point towards our brain having created very effective shortcuts when it comes to decision making. 

According to some studies, we take in around 11 million bits of information through our senses per second. We can only process around 40 of those consciously. We can only act on one at any one time.

That is why our brain has created wonderful mechanisms to filter and sort the incoming information and make it easier for us to make decisions. It basically deletes nearly all choice, so we can function more effectively. 

Unfortunately, this is not always helpful in making complex decisions which are the norm when we are dealing with other people. 

If you look at recruitment, one of our clients mentioned that they were looking to increase diversity in their workforce and wanted to start a recruitment drive.

They receive on average 300 applications for 10 starting positions and they needed to be whittled down to 30. If you spend only 4 minutes on each application, that amounts to 20 straight hours of CV checking and evaluating.

I asked the person in charge of checking those applications how long it took them and they said that they only needed about 8 hours in total, because most of the applications were easy to disregard, as they did not meet the company's needs. 

Whenever we find it very easy to make a decision (especially of the yes/no kind), the filters in our brain help us by emphasising the information we are looking for and deemphasising the rest.

Unfortunately, we have not necessarily chosen those filters ourselves, but they exist due to our experiences, judgments (good and bad), biases, prejudices and so on. 

When we looked at the 30 applications that were chosen to go through the next round, we noticed that they were overwhelmingly in favour of:

- a certain gender

- a certain race

- a certain educational background

- a certain age range

As the recruitment drive was specifically geared towards enhancing diversity, the recruiters were quite taken aback by the uniformity of their selections.

Whenever we find it too easy to make decisions, we might just be following our internal and unconscious biases, preferences and opinions, rather than deciding based on evidence based facts. 

In unconscious bias training courses, we invite the participants to discover and evaluate their own biases and then develop strategies to overcome them. In the case mentioned above, the recruitment team came up with nearly a dozen ways to restructure their hiring processes in order to reach their stated goal of a more diverse workforce.  

Unconscious biases are present in many everyday office decisions and by being more aware of your own, you can improve the quality of your decision making massively.

Find out more about Unconscious Bias training courses here.

Posted by on September 11, 2018

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