How does implicit bias influence the cultural fit within tech firms?

Social Diversity : Implicit Bias Part 1

Created on: September 08, 2017

Updated on: September 08, 2017

What is implicit bias ?

Implicit bias is used to describe a scenario in which we have attitudes towards people or we associate stereotypes to people without our conscious knowledge. This is because we have associated learned behaviour that has built up over a period of time.

These implicit biases tend to subvert our decision making in a number of ways.

We will look at the people who are in positions of power and the impact of unconscious bias has had on the wider diverse community.

We will look at positive and negative examples and we will ask questions such as how do organisations based in diverse cities get away with having software development departments that are predominantly white ?

And we will look at examples of how people in positions of power within organisations can build diverse teams without breaking the bank.

So join us as we delve in to part 1 and we will investigate whether organisations need to adjust their narrative of how potential employees need to fit in to the cultural stereotypes within their organisation.

What is your comfort zone ?

When I was a child I was used to living my life as an outsider, I went to school within a London suburb that wasn’t diverse at the time and as I grew up I got used to being outside of a comfort zone.  

Talking of comfort zones, routines make us feel at ease and in control and they also help to become insensitive to the people and the environment that surround us. This leads us in to situations where our biases can have profound effects on diverse communities.

You may be asking yourself how do I fit in to all of this? This feels very agonising and uncomfortable, get me out of here. 

Healthy working relationships

Meanwhile, on a lighter note; earlier on in my career in my old life.  I worked for a software development company providing 3rd level technical support. 

After a year, I was appointed to provided presentations to various offices around the world. 

A year before my arrival in Sydney, I had worked on building a positive healthy working relationship with my counterparts this included going to work early to participate in weekly conference calls. 

On arrival

At the time, we didn’t have our photos posted on the local intranet and so this meant that when I arrived in Sydney no one knew what I looked like.

A few days later after I had arrived we all went out to a restaurant on Darling Harbour.

Whilst we were there I had a long conversation with the manager and he explained that prior to my visit he thought I was of Indian ethnicity. Afterwards I kept on thinking, he must have had a shock when I walked through the door. 

We all have biases in one way or the other but in this case, I was happy that the manager felt safe enough to express what he thought. I think this was because we had developed an excellent working relationship for a year prior to my arrival.

IT recruitment & unconscious bias

Meanwhile, a few years ago, I was made redundant and if you don’t already know, there is a redundancy process that organisations have to follow as part of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The organisation has to consult the workers during the redundancy process. 

This included the prioritisation of internal candidates to jobs that were advertised internally within the organisation. 

As part of that process I applied for 3 roles, the first two were roles that I was currently performing and the last one was a developer role in the head office. 

There was a period of 12 weeks in total and in the final week you had to make a decision as to which role you have to choose, if you were made any offers. 

I applied for the developer role in June and I didn't hear from them for a period of 10 weeks.

On week 11, I received an email inviting me for an interview.

The redundancy procedures and processes are in place so that internal candidates are provided the best chance in applying for roles internally.

Did this happen in practice? No

Why did it take 10 weeks for the organisation to get back to me during a redundancy process in which I was supposed to have a priority?

It is my view that the organisation practised status quo bias.

Status quo bias

Where they had a preference for the current state of affairs and that they didn’t want to rock the boat as we shall say.

The organisation also had in-group bias.

In-group bias

The tendency to favour members of your own group. I was from a different department and the organisation favoured their own people. 

In-group bias and status quo bias are nuanced forms of unconscious bias.

By now alarm bells were ringing, I am an open-minded person so I attended the interview, but there were a few things that didn’t sit well with me.

Diversity what is the point ?

I had a tour of all 4 floors and I encountered roughly 400 people in the development department. Out of those 400 people I could count 4 people who were from an ethnic minority background. This is 0.1% of the population and the company was located on the borders of the city of London. 

55% of London’s population is from a non-white community.

What is the point of having an inclusive diversity policy if it is not reflected in your department?

This is a clear representation of structural unconscious bias.

Cultural Fit

Have you heard within job interviews, “Will he or she fit in?”.

Cultural fit is a stereotype that reinforces unconscious bias.

All of this happened within an organisation that claims to have an inclusive diversity policy.

The organisation sent a test via email that was based on a framework that I had no knowledge of. 

You will be pleased to hear that I didn't make it to the next stage. 

Implicit bias test

One way you can find out about our own unconscious bias is to take the test as devised by Harvard and Washington Universities in the US.

This is the implicit association test and you can find out more about it in the screenshot listed here:

Your implicit bias

If you have taken the test and felt unsure or you have looked on in disbelief. I can tell you that you are not alone.

I am pleased to say that you are a step forward in acknowledging implicit bias and we are in a position to work on reducing our own implicit bias.

We will delve in to this in part 3, in the meantime we have looked at how implicit bias within my old life had an impact on meeting my colleagues on the other side of the world.

And we looked at how software development interview revealed intentional, nuanced, unconscious bias and this was reflected in the ethnic makeup of the department.

Next week we will look at how implicit bias can influence your relationships and we will show you an example of a juxtaposition that will be very revealing.

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(photo used courtesy of #wocintech)