I hate talking about unconscious bias because I wish it wasn’t a thing. But it is, and honestly it is damn near unavoidable!

Let me explain what unconscious bias is and what you can do as a candidate to limit unconscious bias in your recruitment processes. If you are keen to learn why unconscious biases don’t make you a bad person, this episode is for you!

Links I mentioned in this episode:

27. Unconscious bias in recruitment – Transcript

[00:00:00] Hi, there I’m Bec McFarland the host of the Pop Your Career Podcast. As a career coach, I’m most passionate about helping my clients to discover their own personal flavour of career fulfillment. In this podcast, we are going to be exploring ways that you too can feel more fulfilled by your work. So strap yourself in, get ready for the ride. The tips around here are fast and in abundance.

[00:00:29] Hello, Hello, Bec McFarland here helping you do better and be better in your career. And today we are talking about the topic of unconscious bias in recruitment. And I will tell you, I really hate talking about this because I just wish it wasn’t a thing , but it is. So we are going to talk about it. But before [00:01:00] we do, I just want to tell you a little story. You’ll know I love a story time, right?

[00:01:06] So when I first started Pop Your Career quite a few years ago now, so it was in 2015, I started blogging. It was something that was really, really popular at that time. A lot of business owners sort of started out as bloggers or were using blogs as a way to drive traffic to their website or gain credibility or present their authority.

[00:01:36] I am really, really grateful that I started out this way. It has benefited me absolutely hugely. In terms of search engine optimization, it was a really, really great move. And it means that a lot of my clients, in fact, the majority of my career coaching clients actually find me on [00:02:00] Google, which I think is kind of cool.

[00:02:03] When I started blogging though, I would always choose really cheesy stock images for my blog images. I’ve spoken about this before. It was kind of before that time where I came out from behind the brand and said like, Hey, this is Me. Look at me. And uh, up until that time, all of the images across my whole website were pretty much all stock images, and you might have found like a tiny little photo of me hiding somewhere. But aside from that, it was stock images, stock images, and more stock images.

[00:02:43] Now, if you go and have a look at my blog now, you’ll still see I do still use stock images for all of my blog images. I just now have a little bit more variety across the website. If you actually go back and have a [00:03:00] look at my blog images, you may come across the same thing that I did when I started to go through and do a little bit of an audit of my website.

[00:03:12] What Ive found was something that kind of shocked me a little because it was something that I was totally unaware of, and that was that most of the stock images that I had chosen included people that wore glasses. Now, whether these were standard spectacles, whether they were sunglasses or even sometimes like fake costume glasses, but glasses featured really, really heavily when it came to the blog images that I’d chosen all across my website.

[00:03:48] And I just want to make it clear that this was not a conscious choice. At no time did I ever sit down and say, ‘Oh, I want to have all blog post [00:04:00] images on my website featuring people with glasses’. There was no time when I actually had that thought. It definitely was not a conscious decision. So what was going on?

[00:04:15] Well, I wear glasses and I like my glasses. I used to wear contact lenses and I used to avoid wearing my glasses at any time, but now they’re a part of me. They’re a part of my brand, they’re a part of my personality. To me, they’re just like an extra accessory. And if I look at myself in the mirror without my glasses on, I actually think I look kinda weird.

[00:04:45] So unconsciously, I had chosen a whole lot of stock images of people who I had something in common with. Do you see [00:05:00] where I’m going with this?

[00:05:01] This is exactly what happens when it comes to unconscious bias in recruitment. So when we think about unconscious bias, what we are really thinking about is those biases or those decisions preferences that we have that maybe we are not necessarily really conscious or aware of. We may be making choices or influencing decisions day in and day out based on our own previous experiences, our own mindsets, our own stories that we have been playing on repeat in our minds, and sadly, a lot of the time. We’re not even really aware that it’s happening.

[00:05:52] Could you imagine if I discriminated against people without [00:06:00] glasses and only hired people that had glasses? It would be a travesty, but this is happening all the time. Often when we do think about unconscious bias, we think about it in terms of things like race. And I have heard a lot of people talk about this, and I’ve worked with a lot of clients about it too.

[00:06:22] People who may have names that aren’t traditionally like from the western world, they may not be like your standard Aussie name, uh, can cause interview panels to actually reject candidates. They may have an assumption or a bias that tells them that maybe people that have names that originated overseas, these people may not speak English well or they might not be able to fit into the Aussie culture.

[00:06:58] Now, even just [00:07:00] saying that makes me feel so gross. I hate the thought that this is happening. And of course, I’ve talked previously about the fact that I am a Caucasian woman, who comes from a middle class family and I have got like so much privilege because of that. My husband, whose surname is the same as mine, McFarland, has a certain level of privilege due to his last name.

[00:07:42] But I’ll tell ya, uh, for those of you who haven’t met my husband, he was born in India. He has got a very Indian first name and he’s got brown skin. So when people see his [00:08:00] resume come across their desk and they see an Indian first name with a Scottish surname, they’re usually left wondering what the heck is going?

[00:08:11] But here’s the thing. If he had both an Indian first name and an Indian surname, he would be likely to experience a lot more discrimination within recruitment. Now, I don’t have the exact statistics at my fingertips here today, but I can assure you that there has been research done on this and it’s absolutely true.

[00:08:40] But what they don’t often talk about in this research and what we don’t often consider is that these preferences or these decisions could be being made without us really being aware of or really understanding them. [00:09:00] Now, at a simple example of this, and again, I hate to tell this story because I think it’s pretty sucky story, but I think it’s important for this particular topic.

[00:09:14] I used to work with somebody who told me that he would never hire anybody from the subcontinent, and when we dove a little bit deeper into that story, it was because a person from a subcontinent country had in the past pulled the wool over his eyes and ripped him off. And so now he was in fact, tarring everybody with the same brush, so to speak.

[00:09:49] It wasn’t until I actually reminded this person that I am in fact married to somebody from the subcontinent, that he [00:10:00] took a moment to think about what he’d actually said. Now, In this particular example, he obviously had some awareness around his bias. He said it in the first place, I’d never hire anybody from a subcontinent, but what he wasn’t aware of was really the way that that bias was playing out, how impactful it could be, and how he hadn’t really thought it through at all.

[00:10:30] He hadn’t really thought through that this particular feeling that he’d been holding onto for decades because of something that happened to him in the past was actually impacting him and the people around him on an ongoing basis because he had in his mind that people from that part of the world weren’t to be trusted.

[00:10:53] Now, this is a pretty extreme example, and again, it’s not an example that I’m [00:11:00]thrilled to share with you today. It hits a little bit close to home for me. But what I will say is that it is a little easier for me to use an example like this, to actually symbolize a lot of the other unconscious bias that’s happening in the recruitment world, because what we can do is we can substitute that belief about people from the subcontinent, for people of a certain religion, people with a certain hair col people who have been to a certain school, people who have a certain physical shape.

[00:11:40] There are so many different ways that somebody could have an unconscious bias that could affect the whole outcome of a recruitment process. Now, I know that there are some people that are sitting there going, ‘Oh yeah, bs, you know, bias towards people with certain hair [00:12:00] colour and that kind of thing’.

[00:12:02] But we know that this is the case. If somebody has wronged you in the past and that person may have just had blonde hair, as it turns out, you could be going through your life harboring discomfort around people with blonde hair without even realizing it. And that’s the thing about the unconscious bias part, right, is it’s actually unconscious.

[00:12:35] I love the fact that when I talk to people about unconscious bias, and they’re hearing this term for the first time, they usually come out and they get really defensive and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t have anything like that’. But yeah, you don’t have anything like that maybe that you’re conscious.

[00:12:53] And we’ve all seen that diagram of the huge iceberg with the [00:13:00] conscious mind being that tiny little bit of the iceberg that you see above the water and your subconscious being the massive iceberg that’s lurking under the water, potentially wreaking havoc.

[00:13:13] The most impactful part of the term unconscious bias is the unconscious part. And so what do we do? Well, firstly, the best thing to do is to make it conscious, to bring our awareness to it, and that’s exactly what I did when I worked with that guy and I said to him, ‘Whoa, hang on a second. What do you mean? How can you say that you don’t trust people from the subcontinent? You know, I’m married to someone from the subcontinent’. I immediately brought awareness to the situation and gave him pause to actually think about what it was that he was thinking, doing, and saying. I

[00:13:54] definitely think that as we move forward into the future and we become more [00:14:00]aware of these things, it is great to be able to call each other out. Doesn’t mean that we have to get nasty or be mean or anything like that, that you can call someone out quite gently and say to them, ‘Hey, listen, what you just said there, that’s not okay, or what you just did there, that’s not okay’. This is the way that we all grow. And I know that it can be scary because a lot of us have got these like people pleasing tendencies and we don’t want to experience conflict and all of that, but this is how we grow.

[00:14:35] From a candidate perspective, what can you do about unconscious bias? Well, it’s not your job to go ahead and educate future employers. It’s, it is absolutely not. However, I will say that in some occasions I have seen candidates who have stepped up to the plate to actually point [00:15:00] out when interview panels or when organizations have been biased.

[00:15:05] And I don’t necessarily always think that it works out really well or that it necessarily helps your cause. But I am also of the belief that sometimes people need to hear something many, many times and from lots of different voices in order for it to sink in.

[00:15:24] So maybe even if that person isn’t ready to hear that feedback from you today, it might be the catalyst for them effectively being more open to hear that feedback the next time that they’re offered it by somebody.

[00:15:40] Another thing that you can do is just make sure that you are not providing any information that is not required. So things like your age, your marital status, your religion, your height, weight, photographs, [00:16:00] anything like that, don’t include that on your resume. Because you never know how those little snippets are going to impact somebody’s biases, impact the way that they perceive you on a conscious or subconscious level.

[00:16:19] I would also suggest that you do avoid talking about this stuff when you go to interviews. There’s a reason it’s illegal for an employer to ask you how old you are or how many children you have, and that’s because it opens you up to discrimination, whether that be through a conscious or unconscious bias.

[00:16:42] It’s something for you to absolutely be aware of and to keep in mind, but to also appreciate and understand that sometimes this subconscious behaviour is [00:17:00] actually coming from generations past, things that have been passed down to us from our parents, our grandparents, people that we have associated with early in life or even throughout our work. Somebody having an unconscious bias does not necessarily mean that they’re a bad person.

[00:17:23] In fact, I would challenge you that most of us, in fact, all of us have got our own unconscious biases about many different things. Even so much as preferring stock images of people that are wearing glasses.

[00:17:41] I’d love to know what you thought about this episode and what you think about unconscious bias. I am really passionate about providing education on this topic and helping people to understand where their biases are. The more that we’re able to shed a light on our biases, the more that we are able to [00:18:00] move forward in a thoughtful and really inclusive and supportive.

[00:18:08] Have an amazing week. I’ll see you next week on the Pop Your Career podcast.

[00:18:16] Thanks so much for listening to the Pop Your Career podcast. I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s tips and that you found value in what I’ve shared with you. If you like your career advice quick and entertaining, I would love for you to subscribe. Also leave me a rating and a review. If you want to continue the conversation, come and join me over on social media. You can find me everywhere at Pop Your Career. I’ll see you soon.

[00:18:42] This episode is brought to you by the Career Clarity Quest, my absolutely free, seven day program, which is designed to support you in getting so much clearer about your next steps. Find it at [00:19:00] PopYourCareer.com/quest.


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About the author 


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.