Eliminating Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
Increasing diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workplace have become a significant focus for many companies. First, it creates a more just, equitable, and ultimately stronger society. Second, it makes good business sense! Increased diversity and inclusion boost employee morale and job satisfaction, increase productivity, expand talent pools, decrease attrition, and build strong positive brand recognition and customer loyalty. The good news is that many companies have made great strides in enhancing their diversity, inclusion, and accessibility! However, there is still a long way to go. Companies can always find ways to improve. One of the biggest challenges to successfully increasing corporate diversity, inclusion, and accessibility is our unconscious bias. Learning what unconscious bias is, how it shows up in the workplace, and what we can do to eliminate it plays a significant role in overcoming this obstacle.
What Is Unconscious Bias?
Our unconscious bias includes the beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes we hold about a group of people without even realizing it. Unconscious biases can be about race, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and work experience. These biases can stem from the influence of the people in our lives, mainly when we are young. We also form biases based on media portrayals of different demographics and our observations of the world around us.
The first important thing to remember is that unconscious biases don’t make you a terrible person. As human beings, we all have biases. They stem from our brain’s natural desire to organize people, things, and experiences into clear-cut categories.
The second important thing to remember is that these unconscious biases influence our judgments and decision-making. It can negatively impact how we interact with the people around us. As such, we must recognize that biases exist in our minds and consciously work to see beyond them.
What Are Some Signs of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?
Because it can impact people’s livelihoods, uncovering and eliminating unconscious bias in the workplace is critical. Especially for people in positions of power. Here are a few scenarios that show how unconscious bias can appear in everyday work life.
After second-round interviews, an interviewer decides not to move a candidate forward because they are not a “culture fit.”
Using subjective measurements like “culture fit” in the recruitment and hiring processes can easily fall prey to unconscious biases. Our biases tend to steer us toward people who look like us, share similar life experiences, or more closely fit what society or our company culture deems the “norm.” When it comes to hiring and recruitment, this can significantly reduce the diversity of a company’s applicant pool. Some practical ways to reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment and hiring process include drafting standardized interview questions and metrics, using panel interviews to avoid relying on one interviewer and using software to anonymize resumes. Those who are hiring should remember that the goal is to enhance and add value to the company culture. The goal is not just to fit into it!
Two mid-level employees with near-identical resumes accept a job simultaneously for the same job title; one is average height, while the other is very tall. The tall employee receives a slightly higher salary.
This scenario may seem outlandish, but research has shown that taller people and people considered more attractive often have higher wages and receive more frequent promotion opportunities than their peers. Similar to recruitment and hiring processes, promotions should be based on standardized, measurable factors. In addition, managers, HR, and company leadership should ensure that the promotion process is transparent.
A new female manager walks into the office on her first day, and several people assume she is an administrative or support staff member.
Many people face unconscious bias in terms of other people’s assumptions about their positions, skills, and interests. There can be reduced opportunities for people to contribute to overall productivity and efficiency, as well as increased job dissatisfaction and attrition rates. Company leadership can help address these types of biases by providing awareness training, working to ensure representation at all levels of the organization, and consistently communicating the importance of diversity and inclusion.
A Black employee voices a dissenting opinion during a meeting; later that day, they are approached by their manager, who has received complaints about their reportedly aggressive behavior.
Unconscious bias can show up in day-to-day interactions at the office. Often, the same information communicated in the same manner is received differently depending on who is expressing it. Company leadership and managers can address this type of bias by providing awareness, communication training, and learning to model inclusive communication.
How Can We Eliminate Unconscious Bias?
So how can we avoid these common pitfalls? The above examples included some practical steps that managers, HR professionals, and company leadership can take to reduce unconscious bias in the workplace. But it doesn’t end at the management level! Everyone needs to do their part to minimize prejudice and inequity at work.
First, acknowledge your unconscious biases – remember, we all do! They don’t make you awful; they make you human.
Second, practice slowing down and paying attention to your first impressions or knee-jerk reactions. Our brain’s categorization of people who are “like” or “unlike” us may drive our unconscious bias. Taking the time to pause and question those immediate impressions can help us determine whether we are judging clearly or whether our unconscious biases are at play.
Third, do some research! Learn more about how unconscious biases begin, why they are a natural brain function, how they impact the world around us when we act on them, and how we can better manage them and talk about them with others.
Finally, take advantage of opportunities to expand your horizons and expose yourself to new experiences and people. This is great for your brain health – and a lot of fun! It also serves as a great reminder of the value of diversity. The world would be a very dull place if we were all exactly alike!