Ed­mon­ton to re­train man­agers to rec­og­nize ‘un­con­scious bias’

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - ELISE STOLTE es­[email protected] twit­ter.com/es­tolte

ED­MON­TON Kim­berly Arm­strong thought the in­ter­net was bro­ken.

She’s a self-de­scribed fem­i­nist, was a sin­gle mother for years and was the deputy min­is­ter who set up Al­berta’s Min­istry of the Sta­tus of Women. So when she took Har­vard Univer­sity ’s un­con­scious gen­der bias test and failed, she was stunned.

“Epic fail,” said Arm­strong, speak­ing out­side city coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee Mon­day. “I hold all th­ese bi­ases my­self.”

Arm­strong was re­cently hired to head up Ed­mon­ton’s new em­ployee ser­vices depart­ment, en­sur­ing hir­ing and pro­mo­tion prac­tices are fair and ha­rass­ment is­sues are dealt with cor­rectly. She said this un­con­scious or im­plicit bias train­ing will be rolled out to all hir­ing man­agers at the city start­ing this fall.

Step 1 is to study the im­plicit as­so­ci­a­tions peo­ple carry as a re­sult of their back­ground cul­ture and up­bring­ing, such as as­so­ci­at­ing young women with child care and ma­ter­nity leave or an ac­cent with poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Step 2 is to have a candid con­ver­sa­tion about those bi­ases with oth­ers on the re­cruit­ing or pro­mo­tion panel. Then the panel can en­sure an un­fair bias does not af­fect the re­sult of the hir­ing process. “You try to sur­face them so they be­come part of their con­scious mind,” Arm­strong said. That’s what leads to an “eq­ui­table and fair process.”

As for Arm­strong ’s own train­ing, on fur­ther re­flec­tion she shouldn’t have been sur­prised, she said. “Ev­ery sin­gle one of us holds bi­ases. … I’m con­structed in a so­ci­ety that views men and women in dif­fer­ent ways. I’d be kid­ding to think I’d be some­how im­mune.”

At the City of Ed­mon­ton, 21 per cent of em­ploy­ees self-iden­tify as from a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity. Five per cent are In­dige­nous, 37 per cent are women and 6.5 per cent say they have a dis­abil­ity.

City coun­cil­lors have asked of­fi­cials to look at name-blind re­cruit­ing, one tool other pub­lic agen­cies have used to try re­duce bias in hir­ing. In that process, hu­man re­source of­fi­cials re­move the name and other iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion from a re­sume be­fore giv­ing a batch of re­sumes to hir­ing man­agers for re­view.

But Arm­strong said her depart­ment is not rec­om­mend­ing that ap­proach af­ter large-scale stud­ies in Aus­tralia and by the Canada’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment found it achieved lit­tle.

Com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates thanked the city for out­reach pro­grams that are al­ready help­ing. The Ed­mon­ton Re­gion Im­mi­grant Em­ploy­ment Coun­cil said city em­ploy­ees have been men­tors to their clients, help­ing them learn the cul­tural “soft skills” and knowl­edge of the lo­cal in­dus­try they need to se­cure a job in their field.

The city is also of­fer­ing in­tern­ships for new­com­ers from Camp­bell Col­lege. The Ed­mon­ton Men­non­ite Cen­tre for New­com­ers said a sec­ond in­tern­ship pro­gram for 15 former refugee teens per year is chang­ing lives.

But the city needs to en­sure peo­ple from mi­nor­ity cul­tures who get an en­try-level job don’t face un­fair bar­ri­ers to ad­vance­ment, said the cen­tre’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Erick Ambt­man.

Kim­berly Arm­strong

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