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Adland Diversity & Inclusion Index 2021: BBH Singapore (Removing Unconscious Bias)

Adland Diversity & Inclusion Index 2021: BBH Singapore (Removing Unconscious Bias)

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Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) Singapore strongly believes in the power of "difference" to make a difference. According to the agency, "difference" is how one gets noticed, be remembered and changes the world for the better. It applied this definition to its hiring process, ensuring that there are steps to mitigate unconscious bias. Its efforts paid off, impressing our judges.

The agency set out with a reformed diversity and inclusion team last year to interrogate the BBH employee journey to identify where it could do better and make the most impact. The D&I team identified recruitment as a priority given the disproportionate direct impact it has on the agency's diversity. A previous training initiative titled "Reducing the impact of bias on recruitment" conducted by Catalyse Consulting had heightened BBH's awareness of inherent bias in the hiring process.

According to the agency, it also made the team aware of the fact that the odds of hiring a minority was 193 times greater if there were at least two minority candidates in the final pool. Also, the odds of hiring a woman was 79 times greater if there were at least two female candidates in the final pool.

With a better understanding of the inherent bias in the hiring process and BBH's business diversity through its quarterly gender and ethnicity reporting, it became clear to BBH that it should undertake a thorough review of its hiring process to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias.

While BBH knew it had good intentions, the agency also understood that the key issue it needed to address was that it ran a relatively formal process which meant its hiring approach and level of rigour was left to the discretion of the hiring manager. This ultimately left BBH open to unconscious bias that would have no doubt be one of the obstacles in improving its ethnic and gender diversity in its workforce.

Its updated hiring process maintained its key principles of hiring on merit, evolving its Singaporean core, and keeping it simple. It also made six changes to the process - content, initial approval, job description, sourcing, interview process, and decision process.

BBH formalised quarterly reports to be shared with department heads outlining ethnic and gender breakdown as part of the context process. When requesting approval to commence a search, the department head is now required to outline whether there was underrepresentation in the department. BBH also implemented a bias checked standardised JD template and outlined that any bespoke JDs should be run through a bias checker.

It also aimed for a minimum of two diverse candidates, be it gender or ethnicity, in each candidate pool and is actively expanding where it sources its talent from. On the interview process front, it now requires a diverse interview panel, which includes at least two genders or different ethnicities. The role for each interviewer is to be defined upfront and feedback is now sent to the hiring manager separately and immediately.

BBH's former CEO John Hadfield and CFO Natasha Lindsay-Barker also walked the talk, forming part of the core D&I team. Its leadership also took an active role in driving the policy change and propagating it within the entire agency. Meanwhile, the agency also found that this initiative was no different from any other change management project and once it was rolled out, hiring managers found it easier and more familiar to revert to the previous less formal approach.

To counteract this, BBH put in place a control whereby all hiring managers were now required to complete a checklist that is reviewed by the CFO or HR before an offer letter is issued. According to the agency, this has been working well thus far. By establishing formal controls, BBH can ensure this initiative is robust. Continued support from management as hiring managers grow accustomed to this new process will be key in ensuring this is a sustainable initiative in the long run.

The policy change paid off, as BBH now has a renewed confidence in its process and a much greater and more consistent awareness of how unconscious bias can infiltrate the process.

Since implementing the 'control' in the offer process, BBH has seen a 100% completion rate of the hiring request form.

According to feedback from department heads, they unanimously feel more conscious of hiring bias and are now better able to have a more holistic assessment of the merit of a potential candidate.

BBH also received positive feedback from its headhunters, giving it a sense of where it stands in the market in terms of best practices versus competitors. Also, Catalyse refreshed its "Reducing the impact of bias on recruitment" training for BBH.

To read the rest of the agency initiatives in the Adland Diversity & Inclusion Index 2021, click here.

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