Tackling unconscious bias by sector: Does one size fit all?

Image of Sandra Kerr OBESandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community

 

 

This week we have published the latest in our series of infographics on unconscious bias, this time focusing on 12 sectors and the differences in the rate of unconscious bias within each by geographic area - the UK, US and Europe. The data is based on analysis of 2.5 million responses to the Implicit Association Test from the UK, US and 17 mainland western European countries.

Three sectors have high levels of racial bias across all three geographic areas: engineering, food service and sales. However, there are also significant differences between regions. Finance has the highest level of bias for Europe, yet the sector is not in the top five for the UK and the USA. This could be because many finance organisations have been working to improve BAME representation and experiences in work in the UK and the USA for many years – a number of them were around the table when our race campaign started 20 years ago - and perhaps this is a result of their efforts. 

Another example is the military, which had the highest level of racial bias in the UK, yet was not in the top five for the US or Europe. We know from our ‘Aspiration and Frustration’ research that half of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK were ‘turned off’ from a career in the armed forces and 36% perceive the sector as unwelcoming to ethnic minorities. It seems that for this sector, the high level of bias within its employees could be being perceived externally by potential BAME candidates. 

One size fits all’ approach simply will not work in tackling unconscious bias in a global business environment. Instead, employers in all sectors must take a ‘global/local’ approach – understanding the unique challenges of their region(s) and taking steps to address them.

However, it’s important to note that higher levels of racial bias do no automatically correlate with low BAME representation. For example, the arts sectors has one of the lowest levels of racial bias across all three regions, yet in the UK many of our main broadcasters have acknowledged that their workforce (both in front and behind the camera) lacks diversity and announced targets to address this.

Conversely, although food service was one of the highest-scoring sectors for racial bias across all three regions, our ‘Race at the Top’ report found that in the UK the distribution, hotels & restaurants industry is one of the top three sectors for BAME managers. This implies that the industry has worked to reduce the impact of unconscious bias within its recruitment and progression processes, and is seeing higher rates of progression for its BAME employees as a result.

So what does this racial bias data tell us?

Firstly, it tells us that levels of racial bias within a sector do not necessarily correlate with BAME representation, progression or even how potential BAME candidates perceive the sector. It’s important for employers in every sector to understand how attractive their organisation is to BAME talent, and it would be interesting to understand how a programme to reduce unconscious bias impacts on this.

Secondly, it tells us that ‘one size fits all’ approach simply will not work in tackling unconscious bias in a global business environment. Instead, employers in all sectors must take a ‘global/local’ approach – understanding the unique challenges of their region(s) and taking steps to address them. This approach will enable the organisation to compete more effectively in an increasingly international landscape.

We know that everyone has different biases which may be linked to different diversity characteristics; however the challenge is about understanding yours, being aware how it could impact decision making and taking steps to reduce it.