What’s in a Name?

unconscious bias

Have you ever judged a person just by reading their name on a piece of paper? I am sure we all have at one time or another…it is just human nature isn’t it?

But what if the associations you make from hearing or seeing that name are almost entirely negative..if you imagine that the person concerned is from a particular class or race or gender? Unconscious Bias exists in all of us – as much as we try to convince ourselves that everyone is judged by the same criteria.

Real life cases of bias are happening all around us. Recently, lawyer and diversity campaigner Funke Abimbola MBE, who has campaigned for more diversity in the legal profession, admitted that her name prevented her from being offered the same job opportunities as her peers who had – let us say – more conventional sounding names.

What makes us feel or think differently about those who are “other”? What makes our brain make these snap judgements or decision?

We tend to define ourselves in terms of our social group. Our unconscious biases are quick to sort people into the group they belong to and the ‘others’. Problems arise if those biases then lead us to discriminate against people in the ‘other’ groups. As high-profile cases of discrimination have proved, multinational organisations have faced heavy fines and public disapproval when someone in their workforce acts in a discriminatory way.

This not only damages the organisational reputation it can also lead to fines and other legal penalties. On an individual basis it can lead to lost sales, poor customer service and – ultimately – dismissal.

Statistically it’s not looking good for diversity in C Suite appointments in the UK.

According to the Parker review:

  • 150 of 256 FTSE 350 firms have no directors of colour
  • 8 companies have nearly 25% of the directors of colour
  • 172 directors of colour across the firms
  • 15 directors of colour who are a chair or CEO

Rather depressing stuff – so, what can be done to address the bias?

Obviously, awareness training especially for recruiters and managers should be available. There are also practical measures that organisations can take to help design unconscious bias out of recruitment and performance management processes and procedures.

It’s worth tackling unconscious bias because even a very small bias can make a significant difference. Our Unconscious Bias training courses are available for both Managers and Employees.