How to make our unconscious, conscious.
As you read this, your brain is receiving 11 million signals. Even for such smart and discerning readers as yourselves, you can only rationally comprehend about 40 signals at a time. Our brains create shortcuts and filters - known as heuristics and biases - to navigate this information overload and make decisions quickly. We depend on unconscious biases to survive. It's how we walk down the street while also talking on the phone. It's how you are focusing on this article right now despite other demands on your time.
But there's a darker side to unconscious biases. Subconscious influences shape the way we see and treat each other, even when we're trying to be objective. From the people we hire, to the products we design and even the ideas that get brought to life and funded, biases shape the world around us. It's partly why 36% of UK firms still have no women in leadership despite the fact they'd experience 15% more profitability if they did, or why female entrepreneurs in the US only receive about 2% of venture funding, despite owning 38% of the businesses.
This week we unpack a few of the most unconscious of biases in the world of innovation, startups, tech and design. What are they and how can we overcome them?
5 things we learned about biases this week:
1. Investors ask male and female entrepreneurs different questions and it affects how much funding each gets.
Male founders: What are your hopes, achievements and ideals?
Female founders: How will you prevent failure and mitigate risk?
Surprisingly, investors of both sexes show the same biases in their questioning and they don't know they are doing so. Read more on what funders and founders can do to overcome it in HBR >>>
2. There are twice as many FTSE 100 bosses called 'John' as there are women bosses.
We unknowingly hire 'people like us' based on superficial things like appearance and name, and it's hurting our companies. Thankfully, excellent new hiring tools are coming to market, setting out to remove biases from hiring.
Textio helps remove bias from job ad wording, whilst Applied strips away bias from the recruitment process in the latest excellent venture from the Behavioural Insights Team >>>
3. Designers tend to design for people like them.
Which sounds innocuous until you realise the implications. For example women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash because crash-test dummies were historically male. Now, designing for a broader range of users (and for extreme use cases) gives designers an edge and benefits everyone. Actually, designing beyond the obvious brought us the typewriter, telephone and email, as this classic behavioural design post explains >>>
4. Well at least computers and aren't biased, surely?
In fact they are. Designed and trained by humans, machine intelligence is based on our own. Consequently the coming AI boom is already rife with biases. We are unintentionally uploading the implicit human biases that pervade our culture into our machines, as Joanna Bryson explains beautifully here>>>
5. By making the unconscious, conscious, we can begin to address our negative biases.
Thankfully, tools for dealing with our biases are getting better. Harvard has an implicit bias test which reveals any preferences you have for different kinds of people that you weren't even aware of.
Meanwhile Google's unbiasing training is its most popular staff programme. Over half of all Googlers have elected to take the voluntary training so far. And now you can too >>>