Tag Archives: Unconscious Bias

Why a diverse workforce can pay dividends

Creating a more diverse workforce should not just be seen as something to improve a company’s reputation or just used as a box ticking exercise, it should be recognised for something that will give you a competitive advantage and therefore ultimately increase success and profits.

Creating a team with different backgrounds and characteristics will enable you to challenge your thoughts and look at things from different perspectives, which in turn increases your creativity.

Research by Josh Bersin shows that companies who are the most inclusive are, amongst other benefits, 1.8 times more likely to be ‘change-ready’ which in today’s market is certainly a crucial skill to harness.

It is well documented that Publishing is an industry that has struggled with diversity and its ability or willingness to publish books that can appeal to and reach multiple audiences and although obviously not the complete answer, rethinking hiring practices has to be a starting point. As the recent well publicised academic study on diversity in trade fiction and the publishing industry Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing suggests ‘hiring more people who belong to marginalised communities will benefit publishers strongly in terms of helping them tap into new audiences – but only if they are given the resources and freedom to do this work’.  It goes on to say ‘while it is tempting to hire the person who fits in with the ‘culture’ of a publishing house, hiring people who do not fit the typical mould might in fact reap the biggest rewards if they are given the freedom and space to express themselves’.

As an agency and partner in our client’s recruitment, we take this responsibility seriously and do everything possible to facilitate the broadest possible reach and range of potential talent to offer them. To help combat ‘unconscious bias’, we can offer more standardised CVs which can include:

  • Removing candidate’s names
  • Removing university names
  • Removing current or previous employer details

We work with our clients to continually challenge our perceptions and some clients are asking us to specifically include a certain range of candidates where at all possible ie at least 1 female candidate, at least 1 male candidate (for roles such as editorial that have traditionally attracted mostly females) and at least 1 BAME candidate.  Where this is not possible, we are able to show that we have been fully inclusive with our searching and advertising criteria.  More and more clients are also opening their selection criteria to candidates outside of publishing, where this is possible.

As an agency, we encourage transparency when advertising new opportunities, particularly with salaries, as keeping salaries secret can increase discrimination. A candidate could be chosen simply because they are able or willing to accept a lower salary. To attract the right candidates to a company we need to look not only at their relevant ‘hard skills’ but also whether they are aligned to the company’s values and priorities. Transparency at an early stage, both with salaries and company culture, not only builds trust but also wastes less time. Even if we are not able to advertise the salary, we only approach candidates that we think are in the right bracket and do not put any candidates forward without them being aware of what the salary and other benefits are likely to be. We do not only look at the candidate’s current salary to determine whether they are a fit for the role, we look at whether they are qualified for the role, regardless of their current salary.

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Unconscious Bias

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating workshop on unconscious bias, held by the Publishers Association and the Publishing Training Centre. Here’s what I learned:

You may have heard of it before but for the majority of us, this is something that is happening (you guessed it!) unconsciously. It is essentially snap judgements our brains make about people and situations, based on our own cultural backgrounds and experiences.

We all like to think of ourselves as enlightened and working hard to create an all-inclusive environment at work. It is built into the mission statement of most companies. So it’s scary to think that in spite of our determination to diversify, our brains are subtly leading us to assumptions about people that we may not realise but which have we have become conditioned to, due to our own experiences that happened to us in our formative years.

But don’t feel distressed that you may be guilty of unconscious bias, the experts say it’s perfectly natural. There is no way to reach adulthood without holding some unconscious bias. The important thing is to be aware of it as a phenomenon. Once we become aware of the associations our brains are making, we can resist falling into those patterns of thinking and treat everyone we encounter as the individuals they are.

Companies have been growing increasingly aware of the issue. For example, Interview panels are typically made up of several people to ensure one person’s unconscious bias doesn’t influence the final decision. Likewise, there are tests you can take which help you to recognise your own personal preferences and prejudices – like the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which was created to increase awareness about unconscious bias.

The good news is that more and more people are talking about it, and recognising a problem is always the first step towards resolving it. When we all take ownership for our unconscious biases, the sooner we can make efforts to resist them and to think clearly about people based on their merits and not our own cultural baggage.

For more info, check out the The Publishers Association website and their blog including Tackling Diversity: a PA workshop and lots more info on Diversity and Equality.

There’s also a guide to Creating a Representative Publishing Industry (click on the front cover of the guide).

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