Top tips to help manage Unconscious Bias

Getting the best talent is a priority for the organisations we work with. Dr Katie Spearritt, Chief Executive Officer of Diversity Partners, has some tips to help ensure that we aren’t restricting ourselves to one familiar demographic, but are drawing from as wide a talent pool as possible.

‘Many of us now know that a range of unconscious or implicit assumptions and stereotypes can impact our notion of ‘talent’. For example, in Anglo male-dominated organisations this can significantly inhibit diversity progress. That’s because we tend to hire in our own image, selecting people who are like us and/or have similar backgrounds (known as affinity bias).

What’s more, the gender of the people currently in the role influences who is seen as most suitable, according to business psychologist Professor Binna Kandola. Combine this with the effects of stereotyping about leadership – where men are more readily associated with key leadership traits of competence and assertiveness than women – and you can see why some organisations can reflect limited diversity of thought.

Yet it’s still common to hear people say that they hire the ‘best person for the job’, without being aware of the potential for unconscious bias to impact their decision-making.

A study by the Business Council of Australia (2013) reported that in identical CVs (except for gender), the male is preferred twice as often as the female. Similarly, a study by the Australian National University (2009) found that, if you have a non-European name, you’re significantly less likely to get a job interview in Australia.

Research also shows that someone wishing to work flexibly will generally be viewed less favourably.

So what can we do to take the bias out of recruitment and other talent management processes and attract a more diverse range of talented people?

  • Use inclusive language and imagery in employment advertisements/external branding. Some companies have made subtle design changes in their graphics to reach a more diverse audience. For example, Facebook recently moved the female avatar from the shadow of the man to be in front of the male icon. Small change, big impact.
  • Brief agencies and search firms on your commitment to diversity, and ask them to report diversity of candidate pools, shortlists, interviewees and hires
  • Ensure candidate pools are not sourced only from referrals
  • Use ‘blind’ CVs with names and demographic data removed
  • Provide unconscious bias awareness training to recruiters and hiring managers, giving them the language and permission to call bias if they see it in the acquisition process.
  • Implement a policy to ensure gender/other diverse attributes are represented in every candidate slate.
  • Ensure that interview panels include both men and women of equal decision-making authority.
  • Review interview guides to ensure they are inclusive.
  • Develop hiring manager checklist, to raise awareness of the impact of bias on decision making.
  • Be open-minded in relation to flexible work arrangements.

Awareness of bias, why it exists and how it comes into play during the recruitment process is an important first step to building an inclusive, respectful workplace, one where all want to work.  And at the end of the day, reducing the impact of bias is everyone’s responsibility.’


Katie Spearritt has more than 20 years of experience working within Australian and global companies to plan and execute diversity strategies and solutions. She has held senior Diversity and Change roles with Hewlett Packard in Australia and Asia, Coles Group and National Australia Bank. She founded Diversity Partners in 2009 to provide strategic consulting and learning programs to organisations in Australia and Asia. She is a member of BP’s Global Faculty on Diversity & Inclusion. Katie holds a PhD in Business & Economics (Equity & Diversity) from Monash University, Melbourne, and has been a Board Member of the Mental Health Council of Australia (from 2008-11).