Affinity bias means that we prefer people like us and dislike people who are not like us. Studies show this impacts who mentors choose as their mentees and even determines how much time hiring managers give to candidates. It’s a heuristic that’s persisted in a world where we are plagued by decisions. If you had to guess how many decisions you have made today, would you be able to? Chances are, no. A study released in 2018 by The Leading Edge entitled The Great Choices of Strategic Leaders, estimated that the human brain makes up to 35,000 decisions a day. That’s roughly 2,000 decisions made per hour or one decision made every two seconds. And all of these decisions will be influenced by types of bias like affinity bias.
Candice Carty-Williams, Lola Flash and Jaden Smith are all credible artists who are challenging Black stereotypes in society today. As part of Lola Flesh’s 2019 exhibition, Surpassing, she invited her audience to consider their response when viewing Black people posing against urban skylines. As documented in Futureshoot, journalist Miss Rosen states, “Many outside the [black] community may consciously or unconsciously ascribe to the heavily socialized stereotypes around light and dark skin, hair texture and facial physiognomy. By centering and celebrating colour, Flash continues to redefine representation of Black identity from the inside.” Our bias and deep-rooted assumptions, which have been absorbed since childhood, are more prominent as we grow older and start navigating life. We use these assumptions as directory points when making final decisions. Flash’s work actively challenged her audience to consider these.
In September 2019, The Duke of Sussex opened up in British Vogue about the racism and bias faced by his partner the Duchess throughout their relationship. Speaking with anthropologist Dr Jane Goodhall, he discussed the complexities of human nature and inherent bias, noting that stigma is “handed down from generation to generation” and that children are “taught to hate”. Let’s challenge stereotypes wherever we see them to break this pattern of harmful stereotypes and inherited hate.
- In your next team meeting or all hands. Ask folks to consider all their previous hiring managers and mentors. Then ask them to do an audit of the percentage of those leaders who are the same race as them. Have a discussion about how affinity bias has benefited certain folks, or been a hindrance for others.
- Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Consider your upcoming recruitment cycle, or the most recent one that came to an end. Discuss where affinity bias would have factored in from screening resumes to the interview process itself.
- In your next candidate evaluation written response. Consider carefully what evidence you are using to justify decisions, especially if you are rejecting a candidate on the grounds of culture fit. Push your team to share the evidence for why one person should get the job over the other, and ensure you are making judgements based on potential as much as existing achievements.
- In your next 1:1. Push for evidence to back up feedback about your behavior or other social skills. Remind your line manager that research shows hiring managers are less likely to spend time with team mates who are not like them in terms of race and gender.
New Habits to Make a Difference
- Start a new regular activity in your team where you share headlines you find in the news that depict harmful stereotypes that perpetuate system racism and other types of discrimination and oppression.
- Make an equality roadmap for your organization, mapping out milestones for the short-term, mid-term and long-term future relating to increasing representation of underrepresented identities to mitigate the impact of affinity bias in everything you do.
- Diversify the voices that you listen to. Take an inventory of whose content you consume and actively mix it up to include other identities, whether that’s podcasts, novels or TV shows.