How to solve a problem like unconscious bias

The Dots is launching a 'bias blocker' for the creative industries to tackle this problem.

How to solve a problem like unconscious bias

When Pip Jamieson, founder of creative network The Dots, saw that AKQA was using Post-it notes to obscure candidates' photos in order to minimise unconscious bias, she knew that the platform needed to act. 

The result was the launch of a "bias blocker" feature that enables users to hide personal data when searching for talent on The Dots. The move comes as "blind recruitment" is being adopted by brands such as the BBC and Deloitte in an attempt to reduce unconscious bias in the process of filling roles. 

Dan Harvey, head of product design and brand at The Dots, explains: "Unconscious biases are pervasive stereotypes that cause people to favour their own group and hold negative perceptions of other groups. In the workplace, that manifests in all sorts of terribly racist, sexist and classist ways: people named Jose getting passed over for people named Joe, women resetting their careers after maternity leave, recruiters only accepting new hires from Oxford or Cambridge."

Harvey says The Dots had been discussing building something to combat unconscious bias for a while but was spurred into action by AKQA. The Dots subsequently co-created the feature with staff at that agency and Publicis.Sapient.

The launch comes as clients continue to put pressure on agencies to diversify their talent. Earlier this week, Syl Saller, global chief marketing officer at Diageo, wrote to its key agency partners, calling on them to "make faster progress" on hiring female senior creatives and directors. 

"Diageo, Unilever and many others are leading the way in pushing for change. They’re doing it not just because it is the socially right thing to do – which it absolutely is – but also because it’s good for the bottom line," Harvey explains. 

Backlash be damned 

Yet this push towards greater diversity has not been easy. The response to the news that a group of white male creatives were seeking to take J Walter Thompson London to an employment tribunal on the grounds of discrimination is perhaps a sign of a backlash within the industry. 

"Backlash be damned," Harvey says. "Our core mission is to make the creative industries more open, diverse and inclusive. We will continue to develop the bias blocker as well as other initiatives: working with our clients to find senior female talent, working with partners around returnship efforts, as well as continuing to celebrate diverse talent on The Dots with our IWD, BHM and Pride campaigns."

Havey continues: "Our community is diverse by design. We editorially curate the talent we feature and have guidelines in place to make sure that reflects the shape of our membership, which is 68% female, 31%-plus BAME and 16%-plus LGBT+. It will always be at the top of the agenda for us. We also partner with over 10,000 brands and other industry groups like Creative Equals, Stripes and others to make sure it stays at the top of the agenda for the industry. We have to change the ratio."

The Dots is firmly rooted in supporting diversity. It does not allow companies that recruit through the platform to search for talent based on where candidates went to university; it also adjusts its algorithm so that more diverse talent comes higher in search results. The Dots also promotes neurodiversity and disabled talent to build a more balanced and inclusive workforce of the future.

Harvey stresses that diversity is "fundamental". He says: "Diverse teams see things from multiple viewpoints and that leads to better work. We see in the industry and in our own team, which is 50% female, 21%-plus BAME and 13% LGBT+. And it’s not just about attracting and recruiting diverse talent but also retaining them." 

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