Unconscious bias: why there is no quick fix and how we can work together to resolve it.
We recently launched a ‘blind recruitment’ tool - where candidates are assessed solely on their skills & creative output - with the aim of giving recruiters the option to challenge their unconscious biases in the first stage of shortlisting candidates. Of course, in a bias-free world, we wouldn't need 'blind recruitment'. But until then, like ‘blind’ orchestra auditions where musicians are judged solely on their musical quality, it's one of the small drops that can create an ocean of change.
How does this link to our mission with The Dots?
For me, LinkedIn always felt like it encouraged homogeneity, but being a dyslexic sole female tech founder, I never felt I fit the classic mould - it’s our differences that make us individually brilliant. So, in 2014, I sunk everything into starting The Dots. Our mission is simple - to become the next generation’s professional network that promotes social responsibility and helps open up opportunities to everyone.
To help, The Dots team ensure that over 50% of the people we feature on The Dots are female and over 30% BAME. We have also removed the ability for companies who use The Dots to be able to search for talent based on where candidates went to university.
We also try to be the change we want to see: 50% of The Dots’ employees are female, 27% are BAME and 13% are LGBT+.
So, even with a diverse community such as The Dots (which is 68% female, 31% BAME & 16% LGBT+), we want to ensure that people have the opportunity to be assessed for roles based on their strength of work and merit, rather than their background.
Unconscious bias: why there is no quick fix and how we can work together to resolve it.
Although work goes on inside organisations to promote diversity and un-learn / re-program ingrained biases, the fact is they still exist.
We all have mindsets that affect our judgment, and research indicates that the human brain categorises other people in as little as 0.1 seconds.
With a diverse community such as The Dots, we want to ensure that people have the opportunity to be assessed for roles based on their strength of work and merit, rather than their background. After digging a little deeper, we found some alarming facts:
Turkish women wearing headscarves in photos attached to CVs are 4.5x less likely to be offered interviews than European women without headscarves. [HBR]
The ‘Mohammed or Adam’ study found that having a Muslim name meant you were 4x less likely to be offered an interview than a man with a European name. [BBC]
39% of UK hiring managers have not received training in unconscious bias best-practice as part of the recruitment process. [Adecco survey]
Employers’ body the CIPD stating that one in five female job seekers from an ethnic minority have changed their name on a job application. [The Guardian]
92% of founders are familiar with the term ‘unconscious bias,’ but only 45% are taking steps to reduce it. [Techstars]
Why is unconscious bias in tech getting scarier?
As we enter an age of automation, machines are taught to think like the teams that build them (often homogeneous teams based in Silicon Valley); in which case bias can be amplified at a mass scale.
With this in mind, it’s critically important that all companies build teams that represent wider society as much as possible – only then are we going to start solving the most pressing problems. This goes far beyond just gender - it’s about different ethnicities, cultures, neurodiversity (dyslexia, ADHD, autism etc.), sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic backgrounds and more.
How can blind recruitment help the issue of unconscious bias?
Many companies such as the BBC and Deloitte have implemented ‘blind recruitment’ practices to reduce unconscious bias in their recruitment process.
The example of ‘blind’ orchestra auditions demonstrates how these techniques can help to increase representation. In the 1970s, the top five orchestras in America included less than 5% women. This has now grown to up to 30%, after recruiting based solely on the quality of an orchestral candidate’s music, rather than how they presented at the audition.
So we have used the tools at our disposal and created an optional ‘blind recruitment’ tool on The Dots for recruiters to use in the first stage of shortlisting potential candidates for roles. This tool can help recruiters remove their unconscious bias when reviewing applications for jobs and searching the platform for talent by hiding names, education, headshots, and other information that could bias someone’s decision to shortlist a candidate in that critical first moments of review - so that people's portfolios and skill sets speak for themselves.
Once shortlisted and messaged, candidate headshots and names become clearly visible when messaging so recruiters know exactly who they’re talking to.
Although personal information cannot be seen by companies if they choose to use this tool, erasing someone’s personal identity is not The Dots’ goal.
This touches upon many aspects of bias that can happen in the first moments of shortlisting a candidate, such as socioeconomic (by removing universities from profiles), gender (by removing names and images) and more.
The feature was developed by a diverse Dots team and some of The Dots Beta club (which is representative of our wider community) got an early preview. There is so much more to be done and our mission is an ongoing effort, so feedback is always welcome! One way to do this is to join our Beta Club, so please do get in touch here if you’d like to join: firstname.lastname@example.org
We realise that true diversity is intersectional. This tool is not a quick fix. It does not eliminate bias further down the line or in the workplace. It does not unlearn people's’ prejudices. This also does not exclude the important fact that companies need to unlearn their ingrained biases.
Why there is no quick fix
This new feature, and all the other things The Dots team work on to help move the dial on diversity, are by no means a silver bullet. As with many highly complex problems, building a world that is fully inclusive relies on an army of grassroots organisations that are promoting and championing diverse talent.
Here’s a selection of brilliant organisations that are also making actionable steps, so please do check them out and get involved. Become a mentor, volunteer, support in any way you can or (if you’re able to) give them funding:
A New Direction: A not-for-profit ensuring children & young people in London can access creativity & culture.
Creative Equals: Founded by Ali Hanan, Creative Equals is an award-winning organisation championing diversity and inclusion in the creative industries.
Creative Mentor Network: A charity working to connect young people from diverse backgrounds with people working in the creative industry.
Diversity Matters: With an umbrella over projects, workshops, events & projects, Diversity Matters are on a crusade for diversity in arts, media, education & work.
Dream Nation: A personal development brand founded by Claud Williams, interweaving events, training & technology. (On a small hiatus at the moment, look out for them)
D&AD Shift: A life-changing night school for people without qualifications with amazing creative talent.
For Working Ladies: A platform producing practical, actionable content help women create a successful career.
Gal Dem: An online and print magazine written by women of colour and non-binary people of colour for all to explore.
Ideas Foundation: ‘Creativity doesn’t have a class but it should have a classroom’, The Ideas Foundation supports students deliver on client briefs.
Marguerite: The collective that hosts 30 events a year for women who work across art, design, architecture, fashion and photography.
Pepper Your Talk: Founded by Dior Bediako, Pepper Your Talk is a platform for young fashion creatives and a community that shares events & resources to help with career success.
L.I.F.E Talks: L.I.F.E Talks (learning from intelligent, fearless entrepreneurs) is a platform created by Velma Simmons, giving advice on how to access the entertainment industry.
Quarter Club: A network for creative, ambitious women that hosts a variety of events in London designed to inspire.
Riposte: The magazine that profiles women with huge achievements, in an honest tone. Championing diversity, working with charities and empowering through creative events, Riposte has many strings!
She Says: Is an award-winning global network organization focused on the engagement, education and advancement of women.
SocialFixt: The brainchild of Mercedes Benson, SocialFixt connects entry-level BAME talent to the creative industries.
WeAreStripes: Founded by Nene Parsotam, Haydn Corrodus and Akama Davis, WeAreStripes are seeking to create opportunities, for people from diverse backgrounds, across the creative industries.
This Ability: The organisation designed to serve creatives who are disabled and those who work in fields where the talent of these creatives is missing.
Utopia: The organisation rewiring businesses by delivering consultancy across five verticals: creative leadership, culture, D&I, innovation, purpose.
Women Who: A community for creative working women, founded by the wonderful Otegha Uwagba, the author of Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women
Of course, this is not a definitive list (and I’m so sorry that it is woefully London-centric) but it is a selection of brilliant organisations I've collaborated with over the years.
Listening to feedback is so important to me, so if you do have any questions or feedback please do connect with me on The Dots or email us at email@example.com, I’d be more than happy to chat.