Unconscious Bias in the Workforce

Our CEO, Sonia Watson, explains how socio-economic factors can unfairly affect someone’s career chances in Building magazine, 6th July.

 

Diversity and equality at work is a relatively simple concept – it means that there are no barriers preventing certain groups of people from taking advantage of professional opportunities and that nobody is treated differently because of their personal characteristics.

Discrimination is not always deliberate – these decisions are often made subconsciously. The term “unconscious bias” describes the tendency for people to make assumptions about others based on cultural context as well as on their personal experiences and background.

For recruiters, who sift through hundreds of CVs and applications to fill roles, this may mean unconsciously making decisions based on the applicants’ names or backgrounds. 

But there are limits to how far blind recruitment can even out the playing field.

 

Sonia Watson says: “Take architecture. The length of the degree is always going to be an issue. Trying to sustain yourself for seven years is a long time, considering the socioeconomic factors at play, particularly in London.”

Some students, she adds, just cannot afford to work on several portfolios of their work to supplement their education. “Voluntary work, a year out in work experience – all of these are additional barriers in the recruitment process. You need someone to welcome you in and pay you to do your year out.”

Watson explained that the trust’s work was born out of a lack of diversity in architecture. She explains: “We were trying to understand why there was less opportunity to be a practising architect from a BME background than there was 25 years ago.”

The trust’s work is demand-led – partly in response to the built environment asking questions about how to increase diversity in its organisations. This, Watson says, is particularly relevant if you are working on a public sector project, where there might be targets set for diversity. And the trust’s focus goes beyond recruiters, to also helping candidates boost their CVs.

“We want to help people get ready to apply for roles and supplement their skills acquired through higher education with some of the more nuanced softer skills that they might not have built up, such as debating, presenting, group work and the like. 

“Once the applicant has been taken through these steps, they have a degree, a good portfolio, presenting skills, and they’re well placed in a blind recruitment process.”

 

Read the full article here.

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