Unconscious Bias & Employer Branding
On average, I conduct a dozen Google image searches every week. It’s part of my “process”, if you will, for getting the juices flowing. I do the same thing with a thesaurus whenever I’m brainstorming language and messaging. And I routinely find images like the one below, whenever I Google something remotely related to business. In this case, it was “handshake.”
At a cursory glance, there’s nothing unusual or uncommon about the above screenshot. But it highlights a topic of conversation that I’ve been having a lot lately regarding the prevalence of Unconscious Bias. Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences (source: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education).
Taking the “handshake” example above: the unconscious bias being reinforced is one that assumes that the shaking of hands as a social and professional gesture is something that men do. The subliminal message, by contrast, is that women don’t. Sure, if I were to Google “women shaking hands”, I would find photos. But what if I’m just searching for a quick photo to plug into my newsletter, or use as a header for my blog post?How quick and and easy to just pick one of the, I don’t know, hundred or images of men shaking hands, and plug it in real quick? These are what Google tells me are most relevant, so why not use them?
But herein lies the problem. Unconscious biases happen over time and as a result of our exposure to them. So if we are accustomed to seeing the same kinds of images associated with the same kinds of meaning (e.g. men and business), then our brains naturally reinforce those unconscious biases. And the result is a limiting and narrowing of how we view ourselves and the world around us.
If we as a business-driven society are to capitalize on the rise of top female talent, shouldn’t the way we communicate about business be reflective of this shift? If we are to change the way we think about the value of female talent vs. male talent, and thereby narrow the wage gap, create more inclusive workplaces, and improve our economy as a whole, we must actively change the unconscious biases that limit this much-needed progress.
The fact is, inclusive companies perform better:
- Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have seen their return on invested capital increase by at least 66%, return on sales increase by 42%, and return on equity increase by at least 53%.
- In a study by Dezsö and Ross of 1,500 U.S. ﬁrms in the S&P, female representation in top management improved ﬁnancial performance for organizations where innovation is a key piece of the business strategy.
- In 2012, a NCWIT analysis of women’s participation in IT patents found that U.S. patents produced by mixed-gender teams were cited 30% to 40% more than other similar patents.
- Gallup has found that companies with more diverse teams (including more women) have a 22% lower turnover rate. Organizations with more inclusive cultures also have an easier time with recruiting.
And this is great news! Cultures that are inclusive of women are performing better than those cultures that remain outdated. So how can businesses capitalize on this trend to attract and retain top female talent?
Listen now to a conversation I recently had about this very topic with my Aussie colleague Louise Weine, National Director for the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO) on her podcast. The focus of our talk was on Employer Branding and how companies can learn to view their brand through the eyes of female talent, and what changes they can make to their brand communications such that they not only attract the right kind of talent, but retain them. It’s remarkable what a focused strategy, consistency detailed execution can do!
Here are the main takeaways from our conversation:
- Companies should conduct a holistic audit of their brand ecosystem once a year to assess what brand experiences are out of alignment with the core mission, vision and values of the company.
- If it’s been more than 2 years since the company has evaluated their mission, vision, and values, then it’s time for a refresh. Businesses grow and change, and so their core messaging should reflect that.
- Transparency is in high demand. And companies are works in progress (as are people, I will note!). Brands need to find a way to articulate their vision and mission while remaining true to the state of their business. This is key for retaining talent. It’s easy to attract talent with the promise of an evolved culture – but holding on to the right talent means letting them know what’s in store today and allowing talent to self de-select if the fit isn’t right.
- Brands should either re-fresh or create marketing personas that bring to life what they know about the audience they’re trying to reach.
- A Customer Journey is a blueprint for planning the brand marketing tactics across the lifespan of a customer’s (or candidate’s, in this case) decision-making journey. Having something to anchor a brand’s communication strategy will ensure that messages stay relevant and on-point.
- It’s important for Marketing and HR to be integrated in their approach to guiding women from “Interested Candidate” through “Orientation” and eventually to “Company Advocate”. If your marketing materials and onboarding experience are oceans apart, then you need to build a bridge so that the employee’s experience is consistent and predictable.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Are you an employer trying to target a new audience? Are you a marketer who shares the same photo-searching woes as I do?
I love helping Employers develop targeted branding strategies! If you are a business leader looking for guidance, you can schedule a one-on-one consult with me by contacting me here.