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  • Kamran Mashayekh

THE OPPORTUNITY COST OF IMPLICIT AND EXPLICIT BIAS IN THE WORLD OF COMMERCE

Companies and business entities are not nameless, faceless entities. They comprise of people who spend a considerable amount of their waking moments working at their companies with the aim of furthering the aims and objectives of that company. Why are some companies successful and others despite significant resources at their disposal, fail to reach the apex of success and often tailspin into defunct status over a short time? Market conditions and factors beyond the companies’ control aside, such as geo-political upheaval that up-ends the working conditions of the company aside, there are specific reasons for why some companies succeed and some do not. This article will place its square focus on the role of management and HR in creating the culture of the company – to either look beyond the implicit and explicit bias that its management and culture may harbor or allow such biases to serve as a barrier to attract and retain top flight talent.


Implicit bias is defined as bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when they are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs. What is peculiar about implicit bias is that it is pervasive. According to psychologists who have delved deeply into this subject matter, even persons who have avowed “neutrality and impartiality” such as judges or mediators, carry a certain amount of “implicit” bias. Due to the complex nature of our brain wiring and its malleability, implicit bias can be gradually de-conditioned and unlearned. Explicit or conditioned bias is an acquired and learned trait that has been taught through mental and psychological conditioning either by one’s immediate family and/or caretakers, friends, social gatherings, media or any other mediums of communication and interaction.


Both types of biases can serve as impediments to attracting top tier talent for companies that are looking to grow and fulfill their objectives. What is particularly nefarious in the case of implicit bias is that the hiring manager or HR department may not even be cognizant of the bias, yet on a subconscious level, they may exclude a group or class of people that would otherwise be eminently qualified to fill the vacant position. In the case of explicit, conditioned bias, hiring managers may have a blanket and sweeping directive that a particular group and/or class of people will not be considered for employment at the organization. Companies that are excelling in their particular field of industry, have minimized or completely disregarded both conditioned and implicit bias in their hiring practices and look solely to the qualifications of the candidates and whether the candidates are an optimal fit for the vacant position.


One of the most palpable and glaring examples of overcoming implicit and explicit bias, was witnessed when the United States government was giving strong and due consideration to granting arguably the greatest scientist of all time, Albert Einstein, political asylum. At that time, there was fierce objection to the grant of political asylum to Albert Einstein due to what was perceived as implicit and conditioned bias against his national and religious origin and “suspected political leanings.” The United States government in its infinite wisdom understood the genius of this eminent scientist and despite stern objections by various high level government officials, granted Albert Einstein political asylum which resulted in his grant of US citizenship.


There are other noteworthy examples of US government entities that have displayed “vision and forward thinking” in their selection of talent acquisition. By way of example, a former top executive of NASA is a brilliant man of Persian heritage. Despite the frosting of relations between the two countries, the NASA talent acquisition team disregarded all the “noise” and “perceived and ill founded bias” against the members of that community and solely focused its hiring practices on a merit based principle.


Citibank, which is also a global and financial behemoth in the world of finance, also had its Chief Executive Officer a person of Asian-Indian descent. The board, the HR department and the entire Citibank management is to be lauded and commended for not allowing any implicit or explicit bias hinder or serve as a barrier the selection of the very best person to lead this global company that is also using its vast resources to serve untold charitable causes.


With the advent of technology and globalization, the talent pool for all fields of endeavor including science, technology, math, engineering and medicine has exponentially grown. For companies who are seeking to attain stratospheric success, they are keenly aware that explicit and implicit bias in their talent acquisition practices can hinder their rise to the top echelons of success. The companies that are the most successful in acquiring and retaining the brightest and best in the fields of commerce are following the template and examples of the above referenced companies and basing their hiring practices solely on a “merit-based” criteria with a complete and utter disregard of any explicit or conditioned bias for the origin, race, background or gender.