Tasmania’s top mandarins get together to understand unconscious bias

By Stephen Easton

Thursday March 9, 2017

Efforts to avoid unconscious bias in recruitment and improve gender equality at senior level have brought together the secretaries and deputy secretaries of all Tasmanian State Service agencies in a group professional development session for the first time in 15 years.

The list of potential cognitive biases that have been described by scientists over the years is frighteningly long but in the case of gender inequality in employment, the key culprit is affinity bias, according to academics Melissa Wheeler & Victor Sojo.

For Tasmania’s top mandarin Greg Johannes, it was “both confronting and rewarding” to look closely at how cognitive biases are likely to have skewed his own decisions in the past. The top two layers of executives first assessed themselves, then each spent an hour in a one-on-one session with the consultant leading the course before they finally got together for a half-day workshop last Thursday.

Agency heads originally agreed to take the training as part of their strategy to achieve gender parity in the Tasmanian government’s senior executive ranks but then later decided to ask their deputies to come along as well. In a short all-staff message Johannes shared with The Mandarin, the head of the Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet explained a little about what he gleaned from the three exercises:

“They have helped me to identify a range of areas and processes where I, and we, need to make sure that we’re removing barriers that might get in the way of people being included in the workplace and contributing their best, irrespective of things like their age or gender.

“This was a great next step on the journey and you’ll hear more about our work in the near future as we get closer to releasing the State Service’s new approach to diversity and inclusion.”

The Victorian government is also keen on removing names, ages, genders and places of residence from job applications as a way of increasing workforce diversity — especially in senior management — and is encouraging private sector organisations to get on board alongside some of its public servants through the Recruit Smarter initiative.

The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Treasury and Finance, WorkSafe, VicHealth and the Transport Accident Commission have all signed up for a trial announced in February, alongside Westpac, Ai Group and PwC.

It is “the first multi-sector cooperative initiative of its kind in Australia” according to Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott, and VicHealth CEO Jerril Richter added:

“VicHealth is delighted to align the Victorian Government’s vision and leadership to amplify diversity and inclusion in our state. We are a proud partner in Recruit Smarter through some emerging work in gender equality developed under our Leading Thinkers Initiative.”

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