Edmonton to retrain managers to recognize ‘unconscious bias’
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.