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Editorial Team
07 Mar 2018



The Veil of Vagueness Normative Cognitive Bias wears in Organizational Systems

organizational systems

The fallacy of stereotypes where looks speak louder than work. No more. 

What do psychologists say about the stereotypes that we (Every one of us) carry around in our heads?  

Categorizing things into highly structured and progressively simplified concepts makes easy the receipt and storage of the informational web. We have stereotypes hard-wired into our brains as a primitive instinct which helped us survive the predators by categorizing them as threats. The same psychology goes into the association of friends and family as one’s own. 

"With no inclinations, we are the slaves of the automatic default settings of the brain." Consequently, the formation of stereotypes is not under our control but practicing the art of emotional intelligence is. 

The Shades of Stereotypes: Xenophobic, Ethnocentric, Elitism, Hyper-attractive, and Hypo-attractive  

The UK government report points to extreme levels of bias against different ethnicities. Ethnocentrism is widely prevalent across the veins of organizational hierarchy and talent acquisition mechanisms in the UK with people from minority communities saying- with headscarves on, the chances of being hired are diminished and vice versa. 

The monster of biasedness raises its head in the manifestation of pre-conceived notions like Asians are hard-working and Americans are intelligent. Cognitive bias is highly detrimental to the companies because of the high turnover rates and low profits. The employees biased against, lose morale. A general resentment results in poor productivity and diminished profits. The third law of Newton, though applicable to the physical world couldn’t hold truer for the metaphysical world too! 

Green Park research also states the compounding experiences with 82% of ethnic minority people claiming institutional prejudices. It’s not just at the initial hiring days that people are prejudiced against. Even leaders face it. 18% minority leaders agree to have experienced the workplace discrimination personally. 

Under a flagship program by BBC called BBC 100 women, women CEOs of leading Silicon Valley companies have revealed the ordeal of fetishization they have been subjected to.  

Plato insisted beauty is in the eyes of the beholders. Sure. If the beholders are talent managers- beauty becomes quantitative. For some industries, beauty defines elitism falling under the category of physical attractiveness stereotype. The attribute of beauty comes to define every other aspect of one’s personality. Called good-looking people bias, this phenomenon is about perceiving beauty as a connotation of honesty, talent, and knowledge. For other industries, beauty translates into weightlessness or whatever is opposite of ‘strictly business’.  

The profoundly popular assumption of good looking people getting away with anything doesn’t hold true when it comes to women after all. Women in venture capital are only taken seriously when they are brunettes because of their stronger pattern recognition as CEOs. A blonde woman is highly commoditized by media paraphernalia and is a source of grand discomfort inside a meeting room. To be taken seriously and meaning business, they have to dye their hair brown. 

Lauren Rivera, a faculty at Kellogg School of Management has come up with how elitism attracts elitism and also covered the same in her book Pedigree: How Elite Students get Elite Jobs. The subjective perceptions come to play their role when candidates are being hired by talent managers looking for people who look elite and representative and are a replication of themselves. She calls it ‘looking glass merit’. 

The role beauty plays in getting the coveted positions in boardrooms isn’t lost on the image consulting and management firms who guide the top management layer and business people how to present themselves to be taken seriously, which has grown into a mammoth size booming industry. All the advancement in the HR sophistication is gullible to the lures of first impressions. Catherine Hakim, Sociology Professor at London School of Economics authored a book called Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom calling professional women to tame the physical attractiveness stereotype bull by leveraging their erotic capital in terms of beauty, dress sense, fitness, and sex appeal.  

Cure of the Myopic Mindset: The Overhaul of Hiring Procedures    

Just do it. Structured interviews eliminate the subjectivity that creeps in, offering the world of talent management a level playing field. Same numbers of questions with the same content can counter the cause of biasedness. The evaluation of each answer in an interview must be done simultaneously and not after waiting for the last moment to rank the candidate. This automatically removes the prejudices. 

A joint study by Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Erasmus University Rotterdam says when several candidates are tested through comparative evaluation, the first impressions are seldom guided by the reflex which makes us dependent on the cognitive biases and stereotypes. Instead of interviewing candidates one after the other by only one interviewer, several interviewers can test the candidates on the same parameters and sit down to gauge the average- defeating skewed judgments at its own game.  

A work-sample test is another discovery in a flat world order. Chuck the resumes. Compose, which is a cloud storage company, did it. A variety of predictive analytics and data science software will help you nail the mastery of avoiding the stereotypical obviousness of the human nature.       

Removing cognitive biases is not possible. What’s possible is the removal of it from the organizational hiring process. Sometimes it takes a little courage and conviction to render cognitive biases powerless. 

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