BrightBox Roundtable 2022 - On personal biases and how they can affect new working opportunities.
Bias is an insidious, longstanding recruitment issue.
Bias manifests in a number of ways and not always to the same severity.
Within recruitment circles specifically, bias is the great enemy of fair, logical, modern, inclusive hiring practice. There’s ample research that shows that, for all the advances of the digital age, for all the great tech and ATS-screening tools, for all the positive leadership positioning and guidance, bias will not die.
A sad reality is that, to some degree, to be human is to be biased. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, data shows that we are all, to varying degrees, biased in our interactions, in our preferences, in our communication and in our decision-making.
While most of these biases manifest in no more than mini personal preferences, within the workplace untrammelled and unrealised biases can wreck an enterprise.
Most obviously, and most destructively this happens within recruitment departments, whose primary job is to attract the best talent, from the widest pool available, whilst always considering inclusive workplace policy, community representation and fairness in opportunity. Biases have no place in recruitment. So why do they still exist?
Historical bias within tech.
On a purely operational and brand level tolerating any biases should not and cannot be condoned. Considering the contextual workforce make-up of tech (ie. massive shortages of people, talent streams and next-gen workers), the ongoing effect of undealt-with bias is hampering industry stability and gutting growth plans.
For example, limiting behaviours and understandings of who tech is “for”, who is naturally “good at tech”, or simply whether it’s a “boy or girl” job have plagued tech for decades. The simple fact that so few girls enter STEM further education - with “women (making) up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and maths” - speaks to a lingering legacy of poor inclusive teaching within tech. Much of this is to do with bias.
Further studies indicate these sorts of biases exist across borders - with “a majority of tech recruiters believe there is bias in the hiring process, according to a poll of recruiters from 131 countries” - and across people of different heritages and races - “(a survey) showed a 7% increase in people who felt they had to minimise their heritage or personal identity to fit in at their workplace (during 2020).
Old mindsets/New mindsets.
In our Roundtable, bias was almost exclusively discussed around the idea of who is capable of leading tech projects.
As we’ve seen, location plays less of an important role in tech hiring strategy than skills, and indeed the de-bordering of recruitment has led our partners to emerging markets via nearshoring and offshoring arrangements.
Two of our Roundtable guests - Ben Nadel, co-founder of Woodhurst, Shift and Credit Canary, and Kefirah Kang, Director of Professional Services at Finexos - discussed leadership biases within recruitment direction. Should UK-based companies stick to their guns and keep operational oversight in the UK, or should they defer to the teams doing the work in near or offshore markets, and merely oversee them remotely?
This discussion, while not openly considering the destructive qualities of overtly biased leadership decision-making, does point to a more subtle, more relatable point around cultural biases, in-group biases, self-serving biases, fundamental attribution errors and observer bias.
Both parties talked at length about one of the difficulties of hiring from near or offshore staffing markets in such a dynamic fashion, and how best to position leadership figures within any given project or team.
Most interestingly, Kefirah’s operational “flipping” of programming and operational responsibility from remote teams to in-house teams (and back again) was a particular highlight, where iterative learning capability was enshrined across all teams no matter where they were.
By being given exposure to, and responsibility for, almost every element of a product build, all staff across all markets and locations ended up being more involved and more productive in the project. This was un-biasing workloads and expectations in real-time and was incredibly effective at keeping teams engaged.
In summary, personal biases sat firmly alongside the other main recruitment pain points of our Roundtable, namely how best to pivot and position companies to attract talent, and how to adjust operational decision-making to keep them in place.
Biases will forever play a part in recruitment. While the Roundtable didn’t get into the weeds of inclusive hiring practice such as blind screening or use of specific tools or tech to reduce bias within recruitment, expectation management - and operational decision making - featured prominently.
The holistic nature of mature leadership, biases against who is most capable, and how best to place leadership figures within disrupted workplaces and remote programming teams, were all central points of discussion.