How Stereotyping Bias Makes You Miss Out on Talent

When I got my very first tattoo I was beyond excited about it. My parents did warn me and said that it’s likely a lot of people will perceive me as not professional or as someone who cannot be taken seriously. “How absurd and ridiculous is this” was what I thought back then. Until I started to look for a job and ended up in many situations where I felt like I needed to hide who I am, including my tattoos. All to be accepted by someone else… 

Yes, perhaps I am not the most tattooed person you know or have seen, yet trust me when I say, whether it’s motivational quotes, flowers or something extremely meaningful – there will always be someone who will look at you and say: “This is not professional!”.

What about you?

Enough about me. What about you? Do you care how people perceive you? What if people judge you based on your appearance? What is something that you actively try to showcase about your appearance and what are the things that you choose to hide?

If you were to dye your hair bright pink or blue, or get a tattoo that covers your whole hand – do you think that the first impression people would have of you will be better than it should be, or maybe worse? In case you think it would be better – would you feel privileged about that? Or if it would be a worse first impression, would you feel like it’s unfair to be judged based on your appearance?

It’s all about first impressions..right?

It takes about 1/10th of a second to form a first impression of someone. And first impressions tend to be misleading – sometimes for better. But oftentimes for worse.

The problem with first impressions is that they tend to stick. We need a lot of conscious effort to remove the bias that results from that first, snap judgment.

For years and years, the attractiveness and overall appearance of a person has been closely associated with that person having more socially desirable qualities and traits. So, how does this work when someone has a lot of very visible tattoos? 

Research conducted on this topic often shows quite mixed results – some findings suggest that discrimination surrounding people with tattoos still exists, while other research shows that there is virtually no difference between those with and without tattoos when it comes to employment potential. Even though social attitudes towards the perception of tattoos have changed, one thing still remains. 

How this drives unfair hiring practices: Stereotyping bias

People with blue or pink hair will be perceived less seriously. Heavily tattooed people are less professional and competent than people without tattoos. And so on.

Stereotyping is something so deeply ingrained in society that most of us don’t even recognize it anymore. Sadly, it’s almost normalised. However, that does not mean that these stereotypes do not continue to leave an impact on our decision-making processes and perception of others. How does this relate to hiring practices?

If you prefer a candidate without any tattoos, piercings, or blue hair because you associate this with a lack of professionalism, it’s a stereotype. The fact that someone appearance-wise does not fit with expectations or the essence of conventional beauty (whatever that means), does not mean that this person is less suitable for a job role than other candidates. 

And sadly, many employers still often end up making hiring decisions based on the appearance and attractiveness of the job applicant. 

Looks matter & hiring decisions often reflect that… 

So let’s talk a little bit about how our very own unconscious bias can actually lead to missing out on top-notch talent!

Your bias means you’re missing out on Talent

Let’s imagine a situation in which you are looking for someone to fill a Customer Success job position. It’s someone that would be in direct contact with your customers on a daily basis, so basically, this person would be the reflection of what your company stands for and your company brand image, right?

So, now you’ve narrowed down your applicants to two – Judy and Marie. Both of them seem like great fit for the job, at least based on their CVs and motivational letters.

Time to make a choice (and, please be honest with yourself here) – which one would you choose to hire?

  • Do you think Marie is a better choice because she has a more neutral, conventional appearance that makes her come across as more professional?
  • Do you think that Judy’s look is not so professional because of the very visible tattoos and that it might make other team members (or your customers) uncomfortable?

Welcome to the unconscious bias club. When we talk about biased recruitment, we tend to focus most on bias arising from a candidate’s demographics – age, gender, race, etc. However, bias can also arise from someone’s appearance.

How to look beyond your bias & hire top talent objectively

Here, at Equalture, we have made it our mission to help companies hire people based on what’s actually predictive for job fit and culture fit: cognitive skills, behavior, and personality. Instead of basing your hiring decision on gut feeling and first impressions.

Our library of scientifically-validated gamified assessments, which candidates are asked to complete right at the start of the hiring process (this takes around 15 minutes). 

This way allowing you to look beyond your bias & hire top talent objectively.

Want to try a game yourself?

A visual of one of the games that is non-cheatable and measures a specific skill/personality trait.

Don’t let stereotypes get in the way of you hiring great talent!

Cheers, Anete

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