Keeping unconscious bias in check as a transport organisation

We all rely on unconscious patterns to help us make sense of the world. It’s human nature, and without assumption based on familiarity, we’d be rather lost. After all, no one automatically knows everything about everything!

To make decisions, we slot information into perceptions, interpretations, and preferences, based on our opinions, beliefs and experiences. How we process information is completely subjective. As such, it can be difficult to recognise when bias creeps in.

Imagine for a moment it’s a Tuesday afternoon and you’re queuing at a coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up. A woman, perhaps in her early thirties, stands at the till. A toddler hugging her legs. A baby brother in tow. She appears rather exhausted – a clue is the double espresso – and a little overwhelmed. What do you immediately – unconsciously – assume about her?

  • She’s a stay-at-home-mum. It’s prime working hours, after all
  • She’s a part-time worker juggling home and work life
  • She’s probably a childminder

They’re the likeliest conclusions based on our unconscious, preconceived notions. But we don’t know that.

She could be on auntie duties for the day or picking a friend’s toddler up from pre-school after they were delayed in traffic. Perhaps she’s a c-suite executive at a start-up nearing the end of a 2-week holiday. She could be full-time at an organisation with a 4-day working week.

The eye-opener is that perceptions can be deceptive, and we have an obligation to be mindful of when those unintentional, but potentially harmful, interpretations crop up.

This is called unconscious bias – the automatic judgements we make based on influences such as personal experiences, societal stereotypes, and cultural context. Unconscious bias has been associated with career challenges for those from diverse backgrounds, and when left unchecked, can affect workplace inclusivity.

What are the benefits of unbiased and diverse workplaces?

A diverse workplace is a strong workplace. Businesses cannot thrive if everyone’s the same – often a result of unconscious bias influencing decisions about who’s a good fit. Yet studies have found that inclusive workplaces – where unconscious bias is actively checked – are better places to be, commercially and for colleagues.

  • Inclusive teams are said to make better decisions 87% of the time and be 83% more innovative.
  • Of those who work in inclusive cultures, 81% say they’re happy and 77% trust they’re supported.
  • When we feel a sense of belonging, it’s easier to work collaboratively toward company goals while research suggests productivity and focus benefit too.

Asides from it being a moral, social and legal obligation to ensure that bias isn’t affecting inclusivity, there is a strong commercial argument for resetting our biases. When searching for candidates to join your transport organisation, this means looking beyond the usual suspects and challenging those preconceptions.

How to challenge unconscious bias in transport recruitment

Challenging unconscious bias builds a fairer, more rewarding, and higher performing transport organisation. When you’re next recruiting in leadership, consider these approaches to keep unconscious bias at bay.

Modernise the transport recruitment process

Does your transport organisation follow a tried-and-tested formula for recruiting its senior leaders? Changing this strategy may have a stronger appeal to the top-tier talent that will define and drive your path forward.

As the challenges transport faces become more novel and wide-reaching, breaking the mould is more important than ever. It may be that a type of candidate you’d never given much thought to – perhaps through unconscious bias – can make significant contributions to how you approach a modern problem.

To find these people and quell unconscious bias, recruit in a manner that speaks to the non-stereotypical. This can be as simple as how you market vacancies, how you word job descriptions and the interview process itself.

Developing a unique interview process, for example, may connect you with exceptional candidates you’d never even knew existed. Consider a flexible interview schedule using a shared calendar tool, and make sure to include plenty of times outside of business hours. Being able to interview during working hours is a privilege not afforded to all and more likely to affect those looking for a step up.

Using technology such as AI to review blind CVs via a recruitment portal has been suggested as a way of tackling unconscious bias. But a balance must be struck. There remains anxiety about algorithms deciding who fits, and who doesn’t. Make a point of human connection in your interview process – be vocal about its importance and develop tasks that focus on qualitative over quantitative output.

Another way to shake up your interview process is to personalise tasks. When we ask an incoming executive to evidence their skills through pitches, plans and analyses, the springboard is usually arbitrary. Consider directly bringing in their own experience or a current challenge in your organisation, so the candidate can understand exactly how they’d deliver value and get a taste for how their career could look.

Have diversity in your hiring panel

Giving voice and visibility to different perspectives can challenge unconscious bias in the moment, while also training our brains to think open-mindedly and fairly as a running default.

In the executive recruitment process, this could mean diversifying your panel to include a leader from a non-traditional or diverse background. Someone who not only challenges a preconception that could potentially qualify out a perfect candidate but can shake up or round out the recruitment process, to the benefit of your business. Two heads are better than one. But two heads with contrasting knowledge, experience and viewpoints are even better!

It is worth noting that it’s perfectly acceptable to include a more junior employee in this scenario if there’s no colleague of diverse background in your leadership team. In fact, it could be argued that opening this process up to a wider range of colleagues can bring a welcome new dimension to the conversation, while being a development tool for the diverse talent within your transport business.

Take the time to understand the full story

Challenging unconscious bias needs conscious effort. Sometimes, encouraging openness and being a curious listener will help you uncover the most promising, perfect-fit leader.

During the interview process, go out of your way to understand the candidate’s personality behind the CV – every single time. The most rewarding and insightful connections are made when we talk to people as people rather than job titles, career timelines or salary brackets. What are the little things that make them tick? What are their core beliefs? What makes them happiest in the world? What are they most proud of in their life?

Having these conversations makes it far more difficult to form biased first impressions and acts as a powerful reminder not just to keep unconscious bias in check during recruitment, but how much better off your business is for it.

Need advice about how to challenge unconscious bias and harness the power of diversity in your transport organisation? Intuitive can help. We’re proud to nurture a diverse talent network whereby at least 36% of new leaders are placed from a non-transport background.

As a team of varied backgrounds, ages, and experiences, we naturally have a broad range of perspectives and thrive on learning, and understanding, more deeply. Added to this, our working knowledge of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and commitment to giving voice to diverse talent, mean’s we’re excellently placed to help you build more inclusive, well-rounded teams.

Get in touch with us today – we’d love to hear from you!

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