Unconscious Bias Major Barrier in Progressing Gender Equality

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Friday 15 June 2018 – Kantar TNS New Zealand says ‘unconscious bias’ is a major barrier in New Zealand improving its current gender diversity standings. In research commissioned by M2woman that focuses solely on New Zealand, only 15% of senior leaders believe that they should be doing more to promote diversity. This is despite 70% agreeing that a diverse workforce is important for New Zealand’s business success while also recognising that New Zealand’s workforce isn’t representative of the population. Emma Eichbaum, Executive Director at Kantar TNS, says that unconscious bias is likely to be influencing this.

“That means that a huge number of senior leaders surveyed don’t feel that they have further responsibility for ensuring staff diversity in New Zealand businesses. The likely rationale for this attitude is unconscious bias – they haven’t noticed or experienced the full range of barriers facing different New Zealanders in the workplace, and therefore they simply can’t relate on the scale required for New Zealand to make real progress in this area. The ramifications of this and how we move forward are important issues for New Zealand to address, given the benefits of diversity in the workplace.”

The research also uncovered that 26% of people surveyed believe that bias has limited their career and one third believed the corporate world was not for them. Eichbaum says these stats are interesting given Statistics New Zealand data shows that the rate of self-employment among women has far out-paced that for men.

“When you consider these findings and that only 28% of those surveyed believe men and women have the same opportunities to advance in their career, it is reasonable to assume that an increasing number of women are voting with their feet. The corporate environments they’ve been working for them no longer suit either their needs or lifestyles, and a viable alternative is to establish their own businesses where they have control over the culture.”

“If there are not policies in place such as flexible hours and paid childcare, it makes it that much harder to come back to work. What businesses need to be thinking seriously about is how to retain talented people that are disillusioned with their working environment. Happy staff that feel valued are generally more productive, which can only be a good thing for business. Diverse environments where all staff feel like they have a voice have been shown to be more innovative. Non-diverse environments on the other hand can lead to a lot of “group think” and act as somewhat of an echo chamber for ideas.”

The economic benefits of having gender diversity are well documented in a number of international studies, and this was supported by Kantar TNS New Zealand’s research where 40% of those surveyed said that they are more likely to buy products and services from a company that openly supports diversity (40% chose neutral and 14% disagreed).

“Again, it shows that there are benefits to the bottom-line by being diverse, investing in diversity and being public about what your organisation is doing. When businesses behave in ways that reflect people’s values, people are more likely to support those organisations. Over the years we’ve seen the importance of environmental sustainability impacting how businesses tell their story, and we believe we will see a similar pattern as businesses orient themselves around inclusivity and diversity.”

Eichbaum says that the 40% that chose neutral however is telling.

“Again, it is likely that this relates to unconscious bias. If someone hasn’t experienced bias or discrimination, then it can be harder to relate to and even harder to spot, so it doesn’t form part of their decision-making process because it is not even on their radar.”

The research also highlighted that people are confused about what counts as a gender diversity policy – is it quotas, flexible working arrangements, targeted recruitment, or something else? And how do you measure success? M2woman Magazine editor, Heloise Garrity says the forums they have been running called Journey to Excellence aim to provide an opportunity for discussion on these issues, while raising awareness.

“Commissioning New Zealand focused research was a priority as it puts the spotlight clearly on New Zealand and New Zealander. There’s no hiding from this. As business leaders we need to address gender diversity and having the networks, the knowledge, the tools and importantly the confidence to tackle it, is critical.”

The full results will be available in the July/August issue of M2woman Magazine, on sale July 2.

Now: Read more about our next Forum, Friday 15 February, 2019

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