People & Culture, Performance & Measurement, Strategy

Unconscious Bias – a costly hand break for modern day businesses.


The ongoing challenge of gender inequality continues to be alarmingly high.  Many trends show females are not being offered opportunities or not holding senior roles despite their track record and abilities. E.g. 19% of the technology workforce in Australia is made up of females and only small portions of these are senior roles. (afr.com2015). Moreover, Google reportedly investing over $150M into diversity programs, so this demonstrates it’s a global issue, especially within technology sectors. Ironically and anecdotally, most of us perceive the tech sector to be forward thinking.

With regard to gender inequality, let’s explore this elephant in room in more detail. Data from the US suggests that organisations that have a higher representation of females perform better:

“Catalyst demonstrates that companies with higher female representation in top management outperform those that don’t by delivering 34% greater returns to shareholders. And although only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies have a female CEO, they generate 7% of the Fortune 1000’stotal revenue and outperform the S&P 500 index during the course of their respective tenures.”

A balance of senior males & females executives provides a more open, diverse, contemporary and collaborative workforce. An article featured in Smart Company delivered some interesting insights from research commissioned by Weber Shandwick:

“The report revealed that female CEOs are more likely to be described as being more willing to talk to the media than their male counterparts, more likely to be comfortable doing so (33% vs. 39%), and more likely than men to participate in social media (20% vs. 15%). The report’s authors were quick to note that with so few women at the helm of large companies (23 of the Fortune 500), they often find themselves in the media spotlight, whether they want to be or not………..

“Despite the parity in reputation, the actual numbers in those leadership roles remain uneven, and even executives themselves don’t realize it. Both men and women guessed that there were more female CEOs of large companies than actually exist. Despite the fact that only 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, both genders estimated that number to be an average of 23%.”

The majority of businessmen obviously don’t possess the emotional intelligence or self-awareness to challenge these norms within work environments and therefore continue to disadvantage females – knowingly or unknowingly. Why is it we can pay homage to our mothers, sisters, friends and female family members but at the same time not provide them with the same opportunities afforded to males in the workplace?

It’s an interesting paradox, such as why is it we (men) are so hung up about creating wealth & power even though data shows that having a greater share of females in senior roles drives better results? Ignorance maybe, relinquishing control must be a reasonable guess.  The main reason is unconscious bias.

By definition unconscious bias is:

“”Unconscious or hidden beliefs – attitudes and biases beyond our regular perceptions of ourselves and others – underlie a great deal of our patterns of behaviour about diversity.” 2008 Diversity Best Practices: Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the workplace.

So what’s the solution?

I’ve had the pleasure of producing a video series, which featured Elizabeth Broderick, the “former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She finished her term in September 2015 and served in her position as Sex Discrimination Commissioner for over 8 years.” Elizabeth runs a program involving high profile ranking male executives. It’s a smart initiative where these male execs must drive change and behaviours within their respective organisations and this is a minimum requirement to participate in the group. In the video series Elizabeth highlights that these men are in the best position to influence change because they hold the most powerful positions within corporate Australia.  This program is called “Champions of Change”

However, how does the message hit home to middle Australia? This is the greatest obstacle and I would suggest it must be a balanced approach starting at an early age and right through all life stages. Interesting to see how Prime Minister Turnball tackles this as the former “Minister for Women” was highly ineffective.

Unconscious bias isn’t limited to just gender inequality it now spans across various types of individuals, such as introverts. These are individuals who typically are not heard in larger team groups because they don’t seek a visible seat at the table or engage in-group dynamics.

The Huffington Post showcased 16 Super Successful introverts, which featured the likes of Bill Gates, Gandhi, JK Rowling, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parkes and many more!

There are several firms that specialise in providing diagnostics and subsequent training programs to address the broader diversity gaps. Technology firms have started to use data to make far more informed decisions and develop solutions to isolate and address gaps.

Some may argue that the above is an exercise in tokenism. Whereas the upside or trade off in investing and addressing diversity issues will ultimately drive better business outcomes, increase workplace satisfaction and inevitability deliver increased value to shareholders, increase workplace satisfaction and inevitability deliver increased value to shareholders.

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