How To See Your Blindspots

This week on The Fix podcast, I had a chance to share the story of author, activist and mechanical engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Recently, Yassmin shared an interesting fact on her social media about recruitment biases in Australia — where she grew up as a Sudanese-born, Muslim woman.

She said that research shows candidates with a Middle Eastern or Chinese last name need to send out over 60% more resumes as someone with an Anglo name, to get the same number of interview callbacks.

If this sound outrageous it is, but it’s also a problem that Yassmin is all too familiar with and one she is determined to tackle.

Her Story

Yassmin is a Sudanese-Australian author, engineer and social justice advocate. Throughout her life she has had to overcome stereotypes. As a young, black visibly Muslim woman Yassmin says she always felt as through people saw her as ‘the other’.

Born in Sudan, Yassmin arrived in Australia before she was two years old. She was the first headscarf-wearing student in her Christian high school's history. Yassmin graduated with first class honors in engineering, and started a career working on oil rigs, often as the only woman and Muslim.

Given her background, Yassmin is passionate about women and minority empowerment. Now she works as an activist and public speaker on these issues. Her 2014 Ted talk received over 2 million views, and it challenges us to think differently about the beliefs we hold.

The Fix

According to Yassmin, cognitive bias shows up everywhere, particularly when it comes to hiring decisions.

“You could show someone this exact same resume with a male name and a female name and the female name will be deemed less competent. Women will be offered the job fewer times and be offered a lower salary. If I'm trying to think of a bunch of engineers I’m going to think of a bunch of middle aged white guys. That's kind of the archetype of an engineer. If I get a Sudanese Muslim woman coming into my office I'm gonna have to do a bit more cognitive work to to see her in that role. Most people don't do that cognitive work but this is the first step in thinking about how to build a more inclusive society. All of us have biases and it's about recognizing them, acknowledging they exist and then starting to do the cognitive work to mitigate against it,” she says.

This weeks fix is to really challenge yourself to look at the biases you hold. This is not always an easy thing to do, as most people think they are unbiased but creating a more equal workplace, always starts with you.

As a first step each of us can become aware of the biases we hold. If you don’t think you hold any bias, try taking the Harvard University Implicit Bias Test.

Putting Equality Into Practice

Each of us can work to recognize our unconscious bias, which often shows up at work. To help defeat this, we need to put in the extra work to make sure that we don’t make decisions based on these biases. This includes not subscribing to any gender or cultural stereotypes when we deal with colleagues.

However, it’s businesses and senior management that need to create long-term solutions towards combating such a systemic issue. If companies exhaust resources to reach financial targets, why shouldn’t they use the same approach to mitigate bias in the workplace?

Creating truly inclusive work environments is hard work. But it needs to be done. Otherwise, organizations will lose the opportunity of hiring the genuinely ‘best and brightest’ talent; and reaping the long-term benefits of a culture founded on equality.