Three years ago, a colleague suggested I reach out to the CEO of a specific successful start-up: “Talk to him,” my colleague said, “he found a way to increase the recruitment of talent from the Arab sector.” We spoke. I heard about the product, the success, and the method. The “method” developed by this CEO started with a turn of events resulting from his difficulty in locating highly qualified employees. Essentially, a hardship that every start-up faces. He sent a request out to the universe or, in our jargon – posted a programming challenge in social media. The person who solved the problem swiftly and accurately won $2000 and received a job offer. This person was from the Arab sector – a talented Technion graduate who could not secure a job in his field and worked in his father’s bakery. From there on, and through the Friend-Brings-Friend method, the company recruited additional talent from the Arab sector. Since then, the CEO has been using this exact method to recruit talent. He presents a programming challenge and hires those who reach a quick and accurate resolution – no CV or HR: only a problem, a solution, and swiftness. As far as he is concerned, he found a way to bridge the diversity gap – a psychological barrier to both sides.
A great story, isn’t it? What an inspiration! Let’s make space in the trophy cabinet.
Guess what? Women never went through this screening process. I never hired women in this way,” continued the CEO. “Why do you think that is?” he asked.
I happily accepted the challenge. I get excited about social analysis as it relates to the job market. I knowingly explained about women’s hesitation to solve such problems. I spoke about cross-posting on social media and content that would encourage women to apply for a job. “This is not the reason at all,” he said. “I think it has to do with brain structure.” My heart skipped a beat. My excitement ceased. “And you should know that I don’t recruit young people of the Ethiopian community. They are fast to quit,” he continued. “Yes,” I
said, “as we all know, young people in the high-tech industry tend to quit relatively quickly.” Data from the Israel Innovation Authority report and SNC demonstrate that about 10% of new hires in high-tech quit their jobs, and employees keep their jobs for an average of about 37 months. I relayed these data to him. “Maybe,” he said, “but I invested in these young people.”
This, my friends, is a blind spot. It happens when we cannot accept differences or include identities that are not familiar or traditional. Even when we successfully include individuals of certain identity groups, we still struggle to accept other identity groups. Our bias may be related to appearance, weight, skin tone, gender, ethnic origin, or religion. Moreover, blind spots stigma research shows that people who consider themselves liberal are less likely to identify their blind spots and change their assumptions (than those who don’t).
It is important to realize that –
1) Blind spots are not necessarily an indication of racism, homophobia, or chauvinism. Having them is normal. We all have them, and they result from bias. Bias results from our brain’s efforts to simplify the incredibly complex world in which we live.
2) The problem begins when our biases create blind spots that prevent us from perceiving some individuals as capable and worthy based upon their identity.
3) Naturally, the fundamental issue here is that biases and blind spots decrease the value of some identity groups. Biases and blind spots are uniquely significant in the innovation arena. As Professor Daniel Kahneman explains, biased thinking is automatic, and this mechanism is intuitive. Therefore, it is very limited in its capacity to create a thinking pattern that is active, criticizing, and analytical.
4) We claim that our decision-making process relies on information and data; however, research demonstrates that it is usually based on bias, prejudice, and partial perspective.
What can we do about this?
We should accept that blind spots and biases exist and know that they are not inherently wrong or suggest the tendency towards racism, homophobia, or chauvinism. Begin by asking yourself: why do I feel this way toward this specific individual? Is this due to their personality, or is it about their identity and my expectations of them?
1) Examine your personal and professional (casual) relationships. Who do you turn to for advice? Classify your immediate choices according to gender, age, and ethnicity. Then challenge yourselves and ask an “unlikely” individual out for coffee. Incidentally, you can do this with your employees.
2) Another interesting exercise is deliberately creating diverse work teams. The goal is to form teams with individuals from various backgrounds and industries and different age groups, genders, skin tones, and ethnicities. Be careful not to use people of a minority group as a token.
3) Identity blindness, objectivity, and impartiality are mutually exclusive. Our subconscious is very powerful; therefore, constant awareness and processing are required. Remain aware and implement working on biases and blind spots in each aspect of your work in the organization. Participating in one bias-related workshop is not enough. Its impact will diminish in no time. Once you are deeply aware of the business, organizational, professional, and personal consequences of bias, you will successfully implement change at every level of the organization.