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Frank discussions confront lack of diversity

Wednesday, Mar 15, 2017, by Sheryl Blythen

A frank discussion is a better way to confront a lack of diversity than unconscious bias training, according to feedback we received to Simpson Grierson Human Resources Director Jo Copeland’s recent opinion column. Jo put forward the argument that targeting conscious bias is a better strategy to increase diversity than initiatives such as unconscious bias training or blind recruitment. “If you want actual diversity, then closing your eyes and taking away all the markers of what might make a person different is shooting yourself in the foot,” she said. She is not alone in this thinking, according to some of the feedback we received. “While unconscious bias is an important thing to recognise in ourselves – I am currently in the process of editing candidate CVs to present “blind” – it is essentially a euphemism, a passive mechanism enabling people to avoid confronting their biases head on. “A much more powerful way of confronting a lack of diversity is to talk about it frankly – sit down at the beginning of your hiring process and say, “Right, we don’t have any Indian, Pasifika or East Asian people here, so we are deliberately going to look for them if they apply for these roles.’ “However, the reason I think that people are latching on to unconscious bias training is partially due to the fact that New Zealanders are still very uncomfortable talking frankly about race, particularly naming names in terms of different ethnic groups. “As a woman of colour, I’ve heard all the various euphemisms for ethnicity – different, cultural, exotic, urban etc.” There was also concern that unconscious bias training gives people an “out” by confirming they are not responsible for the way they think. “Unconscious bias training tells us that we can’t stop it – if you remove certain elements of bias, surely the brain is going to find other elements in the CV which will trigger a biased response. Why not recognise from the outset that your ‘lizard brain’ is going to do what it is going to do, and use your more sophisticated frontal lobe to ignore it?” But other commentators believe there is a place for blind recruitment. “I believe if the person specs for the role reflect diversity and equality values, and then CVs are screened against those criteria, then, yes, they can and probably should remain blind. “If I have experience and awareness of practising genuine inclusion, have had experience working with people of different cultures, gender, age etc, and if the job specs of an organisation that truly wants diversity are aligned to those values, then the job is mine already!” It was great to have such a lively discussion and Diversity Works New Zealand will be publishing more opinion columns written by members of our network to encourage debate about important diversity issues.    

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