Hidden biases against men ... overweight women found in UK test

HRM 14 Nov 2012

We’d all like to think we judge people based purely on their actions and experience, but it’s no surprise that hidden biases influence our actions.

Now a UK survey has confirmed this claim, showing many HR professionals are unaware of their own prejudices.

The surveys, designed by specialist Hogrefe Implicity for UK publication People Management, showed that more than half of HR pros are biased against overweight women and two fifths are biased against men.

The tests assess unwitting associations of gender and competence, found that men were the losers with 37% of respondents revealing a bias against them, and just one per cent showed a prejudice against women.

However, overweight women were the most affect group with 51% showing a bias that was “likely or very likely” to affect their behaviour. Comparatively, just four per cent showed a similar bias toward slimmer women.

Other  significant results included:

  • A surprising 15% of men showed a prejudice against male candidates, compared to just 0.5% of women with an anti-female bias
  • Nearly a quarter showed strong or very strong bias against people with a disability, and seven per cent of respondents showed a bias against people without disabilities
  • Almost three-quarters showed no bias about an applicant’s age, but those who were biased general disfavoured older workers with five per cent having strong feelings against those over 55.

Unconscious bias is part of the human condition, influenced by experience, media and society. Human brains are hardwired to categorise and subconsciously make judgements about the people in these categories, even if this is in complete contradiction to consciously held beliefs.

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, explained: “We all carry around baggage. Getting people to understand that, and what their particular biases might be, is really helpful. It can be quite challenging at a personal level – but it’s absolutely pivotal that HR professionals get this.”

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