Unconscious Bias Can Scuttle A Good Deal

Monday, March 23 2015

Do you have an unconscious bias?

Almost certainly…but you don’t know it, because it’s, well, unconscious. When you meet someone for the first time, you form an impression instantly. This impression is not based on any factual information; it is the accumulation of personal experiences, newspaper articles, water cooler jokes, television stereotypes, and books. It creates an immediate impression that may be favourable, negative, rarely neutral.

Your bias gets in the way of making objective decisions when you are interviewing people for jobs. It creates the ‘horns’ or ‘halo’ effect. You decide if you like them or not and then look for information to justify or support your already made-up mind.

Your unconscious bias could blind you to possible partners or buyers for your business. Is it more likely that a man or a woman will be your successor? Your first thought might be a male. That is the stereotype of a business owner many baby boomers have grown up with. But what if you were approached by a young woman? Would you take her seriously? Would you consider her a good candidate to buy your business?

You should consider each candidate’s training, and experience in your industry. The size of your company; even its location may have some bearing. But if all things are equal, you should treat all applications with the same serious consideration. If you don’t, you could unconsciously dismiss someone who is more than capable of being your successor.

Unconscious bias may be subtle. You might shuffle a resume to the “C” pile, or overreact to a passing comment on a reference check. In traditionally male fields, resumes of female applicants receive fewer callbacks, or are offered lower starting salaries than men – even if the woman’s qualifications are better.

In one famous study, orchestras installed screens during auditions so judges could hear, but not see, performers. This increased the chance of a female musician making it past the first round by 50 per cent.

Are you looking for a partner or a prospective buyer for your company? You can’t afford to let an unconscious bias cloud your judgment and stand in the way of a perfectly good agreement.