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Consciously Challenging Bias

By Ruth
March 8 2016

Posted in Community

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PledgeForParity, and there’s some great resources to help understand and take action today, Tuesday 8th March 2016 (or any day for that matter,) on the official website, here.

This blog post is focused on challenging conscious and unconscious bias in recruitment, on International Womens Day, 2016 (and we acknowledge that it’s not just women who experience bias in the recruitment process, the issue goes much further): 

Studies show that gender-balanced organisations and teams deliver stronger results, and that inclusive societies are more progressive, but ingrained bias slows the progress of equality.

Organisations must build cultures where all people feel valued and included and can contribute fully according to their capabilities.

Individuals can commit to learning about their own biases, adjusting their behaviour as needed and welcoming different experiences and points of view

Ingrained bias and how to reduce it is a hot topic in recruitment at the moment, and some very forward-looking organisations are helping to cut down barriers to employment for women (and other folks who are under-represented in technical jobs).

First, a bit more of a definition:

Unconscious bias influences your decisions in way you can’t notice and can’t control. It’s what makes people who consider themselves champions for women in the workplace rate a man’s resume as more qualified than the same resume with a woman’s name on top. It explains, in part, how a company of well-educated, well-intentioned people could still end up hiring mostly young, white and Asian men. – Source: Forbes ‘Rise Of The Bias Busters’, 2 November, 2015

A recent NY Times article threw some light on the topic for me, as I was aware of local NZ disruptors in the recruitment space, not the international ones:  Is Blind Hiring the Best Hiring (it’s a long read, I’ll pull out my key points below!).

So, what is Summer of Tech’s #PledgeForParity in 2016?

We are going to help NZ’s best tech employers challenge their conscious & unconscious bias when it comes to hiring interns and graduates for their teams.  We can achieve this by optimising our online search platform for unbiased search, by making it easy for employers to search for candidates by skill, and removing potentially bias-causing factors from their first search.

Ruth McDavitt, Summer of Tech

This is in line with what many forward-thinking recruiters are doing with CVs (resumes) coming in to their hiring managers. It is becoming quite common for personal information to be redacted from CV’s, to enable employers to cast aside their unconscious prejudices and focus on the important things, like skill-set.

Last year, we were lucky enough to work with a team of volunteers from Data For Good.  They built a prototype of a skill search tool for Summer of Tech that dives into our database and delivers anonymous candidate results, like this:

Skillfinder 2

We were stoked with how this worked. It enabled us to search the database (at the time, over 600 student candidates), by skill. You could drill into categories of skill-sets, and also filter by qualification, and year of study.  All the while, you know that each little bubble represented an actual human, but you don’t know their gender, age, ethnicity, or which tertiary institution they’re studying at.

Skillfinder 3

For 2016, we’re planning to take this to the next level, and this is SUPER exciting. We’re working on a redacted search for our live candidate database.  

We’re excited about this project, and the team is working hard to get it ready when employers start looking for summer interns on our site in May.

Want to explore more about the topic of Unconscious Bias? 

This is a topic our team discusses a LOT. Below is a sample of some of the resources that we think are good reading/watching, for anyone interested in exploring the topic some more.  We’d love to hear your thoughts & opinions!

Want to test your own unconscious bias?

Here’s a free online test from Harvard Business School.

If you’re interested in how unconscious bias plays out in tech recruitment, this article one from Medium, entitled It’s Not Foot In Mouth Disease is worth a read.  The title refers to Michael Moritz from Sequoia Capital’s response when asked about the dearth of women in his company.  Among his explanations was that the firm is seeking women but “not prepared to lower our standards”.  Open mouth, insert foot? Perhaps, but there’s more to the story, and the article illustrates the “unconscious” part of the equation really well.

Prefer show & tell than reading long stuff? Here’s a 1 hour video from Google’s People Analytics team:

Google are definitely leaders in this space, they were one of the first tech companies to release the stats on the demographics of their staff, and published this training video back in September 2014.

Also, there was a great Webstock 2015 talk about the neuroscience of gender bias, here’s the video.

Check out these companies that are moving & shaking up the blind hiring space:

First up, some homegrown examples; NZ has some disruptive tech companies in the recruitment space! Here’s 2 cool kiwi companies that we know of:

Now, a quick scan of what’s happening overseas:

A quick shout-out to some of the MANY great Women in Tech meet-ups/events/groups in NZ
SheSharp, Refactor, Girl Geek Dinners, Rails Girls (Motueka, ChristchurchWellington & Auckland), Extraordinary Tales of Strength & Daring, and NZTech Women

More local perspectives & links to groups to connect with: in this Absolute IT article, and this NZ Herald article , and on the NACEW website.

And finally…

We must congratulate the Summer of Tech employers for being proactive in hiring for diversity. The industry average for women in tech roles is 20%…. and 35% of Summer of Tech interns in 2015 were women.

SoT2015 interns

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