Recently I watched the attached clip of Yassmin Abdel-Magied, which highlighted the issue of unconscious bias. Every day we unwittingly make judgements on the people around us, based on our perceptions not fact. Every day I travel to work on a crowded train and watch as new passengers decide whether to sit next to a stranger or stand. It is interesting to observe which seats are taken last and who doesn’t look at the person beside them.
The greatest peril of unconscious bias is in recruitment. Examinations and tests can be completed anonymously but most employers require an interview to assess skills, such as verbal communication, that cannot be tested without personal interaction. Do they unintentionally favour someone of a similar background to current employees or are they looking for someone different to meet diversity targets? Neither approach is acceptable.
Writers should never encounter bias. Our work is submitted, sometimes without editors seeing any personal details, and selected or rejected on merit. I have read books where the author’s first name is not given, and thus don’t know their gender still less their race, age or background. In last week’s blog I talked about Patricia Cornwell’s most recent book on Walter Sickert, which has attracted some criticism. Would the same comments be made if she was a first-time author or if people knew nothing of her personal life?