Design and bias

I remember about 10 years ago delivering training on interview skills for recruitment. A major part of the training was helping people to understand there may be potential to discriminate based on protected characteristics such as gender, race, disability, etc. Thinking back on it, we never talked about our biases, because we really didn’t know how to articulate them in a useful way, or even that they were a thing.

Well, we thought we knew. Except we didn’t.

I’m not going to go into how it impacts on business to get this stuff right, or even trying to explain the many different types of bias we face. Instead I want to approach this from a perspective of design and process.

And also, importantly, what we need to keep reminding ourselves is that we can’t eliminate bias. That’s not a thing that can happen. Humans are geared up to be biased in pretty much every activity they do. Our thinking, life choices, work, relationships, upbringing, society, community, all influence who we are and they are laden full of bias.

If that’s true (and it is), I think the question becomes:

How do we design a system/process so that we reduce the potential of bias influencing our decision making?

This is where I think our traditional skills and knowledge in L&D / HR fall short. We’re so equipped to design processes and procedures and policies that protect and enable organisations in different ways that an important element is being able to design those same things to support good decision making and reduces bias in the process.

To help with this here are some aspects of design thinking which I think we can pick up.

What other fields / industries have introduced systems and processes where good decision making happens and there’s a reduction in influence of bias? e.g. Uber 

What in the current process / system means that we’re inadvertently causing bias to be a decision making enabler? e.g. some companies have decided to do name blind job applications so that we’re not directly influenced if we think a name is more Western sounding or male or other.

How have we reinforced the recognition of bias in our learning programmes so that people develop a better understanding of the influence of bias on decision making?

If a group has to make a decision that impacts on people, how are they ensuring that one group isn’t negatively affected due to unexpected bias in the group? e.g. we know that where panels are homogenous it’s difficult to influence that group in healthy ways without ‘rocking the boat’.

This whole piece is interesting to me because there are too many ways in day to day life where we can make decisions in organisations that are influenced by bias. And don’t forget, most of those decisions we make are nothing to do with self-protection, they’re mostly about organisational performance.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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