What is unconscious bias? And why should job hunting mothers be aware of it?

Returning to work after a career break? Find out why you need to be aware of unconscious bias, and how more companies are offering flexible working to overcome it. 

Relaunching your career after taking a break to start a family or for other personal reasons can be a daunting prospect. And, as a flexible and part-time recruiter in the south of England, Ten2Two often hears the same concerns from women about re-entering the world of work.

They worry that employers won’t want to hire them because they’re a mother – with good reason.

Who wants to employ a mum?

A big concern for many parents is the worry that businesses prefer to recruit people without children over those with them. If you dare to mention that you need to leave the office early or even simply on time a few days a week, you believe your application will go to the bottom of the pile, pronto.

This is largely because in the UK there is still seems to be an attitude that single people without children make better employees than those with them.

But not everyone holds this view, and if an employer is recruiting for a role and takes this attitude, they are effectively discriminating against you. And sometimes, they may not even realise it.

This is called unconscious bias.

Employers are waking up to unconscious bias

Unfortunately, unconscious bias can prove to be a reason why diversity is still on the boardroom agenda and not actually working for every company in practise. But the good news is that unconscious bias training is increasingly in demand by employers.

In America recently, Starbucks made the headlines when a member of staff refused to let two black men use their toilets.

In reaction to this, they closed all of their US branches to send employees on racial bias training. When people make decisions based on stereotypes in their head, that they aren’t even aware of, it affects everyone – not least the employer in question.

How employers are beating unconscious bias by offering flexibility

According to Deborah O’Sullivan, Managing Director at Ten2Two, employers are increasingly seeking ways to attract top quality talent.

They’re thinking about ways to appeal to senior professionals – and in many industries where women are largely absent from board rooms, this includes designing flexible roles that allows for employees to perform to the best of their ability.

It’s a wise decision: flexible working is shown to reduce absenteeism, promote productivity and boost employee engagement. Flexible working isn’t just a good idea for parents either. It also helps if you have other life commitments or interests you wish to pursue.

With flexible working becoming more widely available, the employers who don’t offer it will increasingly be on the back foot and will miss out on some of the best talent. After all, as Deborah notes: “If businesses don’t recognise this requirement, then do you really want to work for them? It’s a form of unconscious bias to make life difficult for working parents.”

Questions to ask when looking for a flexible job

If you’re looking for a new role, how can you spot the companies that are actively seeking to eliminate unconscious bias, and offer equal opportunities to all their employees?

If you’re looking for a flexible role you might want to consider the following points. And certainly don’t be afraid to ask questions around the workplace culture and your expected hours at interview stage:

  • Do they practise family friendly ways of working? If not, why not? Perhaps the clients are all in America and the time difference affects this. Will you be expected to answer emails at home in your evenings?
  • Does the business encourage collaborative ways of working? Is the workplace designed to encourage team work to help build trust between employees?
  • Is there a culture of networking after working hours? Part-time staff or working parents won’t easily be able to socialise out of office hours, so ask what the company culture is like with regards to social events.
  • Equally, will company meetings place when you are in the office? If you don’t work on a Friday and that is when they are held, you will miss out on vital communication. Your employer should address this.

Looking for a flexible role in the south east or west of England? Ten2Two work with forward-thinking employers who know and value the benefits of flexibility in the workplace. Register with Ten2Two here.

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez