Survey Finds Unconscious Bias Results in Workplace Discrimination and Favouritism

Findings from a new survey, reinforce the theory that employers have a largely unconscious tendency to recruit and promote people the same age as themselves or to others in their company, according to the Employers Forum on Age (EFA).

An online survey of just over 2,000 people conducted for the EFA, found over a third (35 per cent) of respondents felt they have been discriminated against when trying to move company or applying for a more senior position in the same company.  ‘Age’ was the most common reason (17 per cent, closely followed by favouritism / the other candidate fitting the company’s ‘personality’ better (16 per cent). 

Denise Keating, Chief Executive, Employers Forum on Age, commented:

“Whilst age is the biggest discriminator in the workplace, it is important not to overlook other biases, such as favouritism or gender.  There seems to be a very high instance of people being selected for a new job or promotion if their ‘face fits’, which unfortunately means some people feel that talent isn’t enough to overcome prejudices.  Whilst many companies have solid diversity policies, this may not run throughout the company down to individual team level, which is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

The study also found that almost two thirds (62 per cent) of employees said that all, most or some of their colleagues are similar to them.  When asked what it is they had in common with their co-workers, age was found to be the most common factor (68 per cent), followed by gender (62 per cent) and social background (53 per cent).

“To some extent we all feel some bias that unconsciously affects our immediate reactions to people.  However, it is important that employers do all they can to ensure this does not lead to discrimination or favoritism which could cause the exclusion of talented individuals from the recruitment process.  Variation in the workforce brings fresh ideas and perspectives from which companies will always benefit, “ Keating added.

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