Before you read another sentence or watch the video, check out the woman in the picture.
Now, what’s your gut impression? Intelligent? Competent? The kind of job candidate who’s already made a favorable impression?
Ina Rhöös, the woman in the picture and the presenter at a DisruptHR meeting in Zurich last fall, doesn’t need glasses. Her vision is fine. A career coach advised her to wear glasses, explaining as Rhöös told her audience, “We unconsciously judge people with glasses as more competent, intelligent and honest.”
If you haven’t already guessed, Rhöös is a diversity & inclusion manager. An even if you’ve been through diversity training and think you’re alert to your biases, Rhöös’ examples of those behind he scenes biases have a few surprises. Men of above average height are more likely to become CEO than their shorter competitors. Referrals from people we like have an edge over those from people we don’t know. And the more a person is like us, the more likely they are to get the job.
“I think most of us remember a situation where we realized, after the first few seconds that this is the candidate,” Rhöös says. “We can’t know that, but our unconscious mind kicks in.”
So what do we do about this? It’s not as simple as telling ourselves to be alert to our biases. By definition, unconscious biases are not part of our conscious mind. Don’t despair, Rhöös offers us some help. Besides consciously thinking about unconscious biases, we should associate with people we normally would not. The more often we network with people unlike ourselves, the more progress we’ll make toward breaking down the similarity bias.
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