Overcoming unconscious bias in international Human Resource management

February 27, 2020
As an international Human Resource Manager (HRM) there are many challenges when it comes to recruitment and selection. Finding the right mix of education, skills and experience in a candidate is difficult enough without discounting someone with potential because of unconscious bias. 

Unconscious bias is when we make judgements on people based on gender, race or other discriminatory factors without realising it. We all have some unconscious bias, no matter how diverse our own backgrounds might be. Humans are bombarded with information about the world and how it works from our family, friends, media, school, college and work environments. In order to process it all our brains make associations and patterns to help us understand how the world works. These associations and patterns are so deeply ingrained that you may act on them without realising. 

Global studies have found there are many ways in which unconscious bias can creep into the workplace:

  • blonde women’s salaries were 7% higher than brunettes or red heads
  • mature faced employees had a better chance of career advancement than those who looked younger
  • both male and female scientists were found to be more likely to hire men and pay them more

Unconscious bias may prevent your business from attaining the diversity of workforce required for competitive success in a global marketplace.

There are five types of unconscious bias that typically impact the workplace:

Affinity: favouring people we believe we have a connection to.

Halo Effect: perception of a person is unduly influenced by a positive trait.

Horns Effect: perception of a person is unduly influenced by a negative trait.

Attribution: considering other’s achievements as luck but their failings due to behaviour.

Confirmation: unfairly looking for evidence to back up our perceived opinions. This is particularly applicable during recruitment.

This is a starting point only. You may come across more bias scenarios. By identifying bias, you are bringing them to the conscious surface - the first step in mitigating them.

Is your existing workforce relatively homogeneous with similar backgrounds and levels of education? Could there be an affinity bias during recruitment for employees with qualifications from a certain university or who are from a similar cultural background? These questions will help you identify the unique challenges your company faces when recruiting internationally. 

There are many processes you can put in place as a HRM to make unconscious bias in your recruitment policy less likely. Suggestions include:

Consider language on job descriptions

If diversity is a problem in your global teams, consider looking at how job descriptions are written. Everything from terms perceived as gendered like ninja and rock-star to an endless list of requirements can discourage diverse candidates from applying. 

Reviewing CVs/resumés blind

If you are working with a recruitment agent ask them to remove the demographic information. This will ensure you are focusing on a candidates’ skills and suitability for the role rather than their background.

Standardise interviews:

When candidates are interviewed, ensure the process is standardised so you do not go off track asking questions not relevant to the role. In many countries it is illegal to ask interviewees questions that may cause them to be discriminated against. These include questions around age, marital status, disability or sexual orientation. 

Last but by no means least ensure your workplace encourages diversity. Where possible have flexible working policies so employees can schedule their personal commitments around their working day. Provide employees with safe spaces to be themselves and speak to colleagues in a more social way. Provide employees with mentors to give them the best chance possible of success.

At a more human level, mark and celebrate global diversity events like Pride, allow employees to take time off work for their religious holidays and interview employees from all kinds of different backgrounds and abilities for your intranet or HR newsletter.

Overcoming unconscious bias takes a concerted effort by several stakeholders within your business but as HRM, you can be a leader in making your company a more diverse place to work. 

If some of your international employees are working in expat roles abroad, don’t forget to look after their health and wellbeing with international health insurance. If you have questions about the right group plan for your business, get in touch, we’d be happy to help.