Be aware of bias

“Having that empirical data will allow us to set targets, and tackle any unconscious bias.”

Rob Fyfe, Chairman and former Chief Executive Officer, Icebreaker

Ministry for Women research shows that around 80 percent of the gender pay gap is driven by hard-to-measure factors like unconscious and conscious bias, and differences in behaviours and choices between men and women.

Unconscious bias or fast thinking

Most of our thinking occurs without conscious awareness. This is sometimes described as fast thinking. It’s efficient, but when fast thinking is based on inaccurate stereotypes, it can negatively influence decisions about the recruitment, pay, and career progression of women.

Our thinking about men and women is still deeply influenced by beliefs about appropriate male and female behaviour. This includes the types of work that men and women should do, the importance of jobs where men or women dominate, and who should do unpaid work, like childcare and housework.

Effects of bias

The effects of bias are subtle and difficult to change. Research shows it influences everyday behaviour (like who is allocated challenging projects) as well as decisions on hiring, promotions, performance assessments and salaries. 

When employees are unaware of bias, they are less likely to make fair and accurate decisions and challenge bias when they see it.  Diversity Works NZ calls for organisations to train their HR staff and managers to understand and counter unconscious bias, especially during employment processes.

Unconscious bias training

Training to raise awareness about unconscious bias is most effective when it:

  • is combined with talent management processes designed to reduce bias
  • is provided to leaders, managers and everyone involved in personnel decisions
  • is provided by people with expertise
  • includes personal unconscious bias assessment
  • provides strategies to reduce bias, for example checklists and set questions to slow people’s thinking
  • is regular discussed by managers including their personal efforts to counter bias
  • is followed up with further training.

Other actions for employers

Lead from the top

Make a plan

Analyse your data

Redesign your talent management process

Maximise female talent

Normalise flexible work and parental leave for men and women.