Unravelling Unconscious Bias (Part One)
As part of our series of blogs discussing diversity and inclusion, we take a two-part look at what unconscious bias is, and what we can do to mitigate it.
Starting at the beginning – how does unconscious bias differ from bias?
In simple terms, if we are intentionally biased, we know when we are doing it. Laws and company policies dictate that these intentional prejudices (based on race, age, gender amongst other characteristics) have been, if not eradicated, then much improved in our daily professional lives.
Unconscious bias happens unconsciously – we may not even realise we are being biased at the time because our brains gather information instinctively from what is familiar to us first, based on our personal experience. By its very nature, this information can make us unconsciously biased in our decision-making. Only in recent years have we become aware (dare we say, conscious!) of this reality.
What is the impact of this in our work environments?
- Creativity and productivity may be reduced due to a lack of diverse thinking across your teams
- Diverse voices and opinions are unheard and unheeded in meetings
- Talented candidates may be missed during the application process
- Career progression may be hindered if the individual is not a “fit” with the “culture”
- Companies may believe they are being inclusive, when in reality they may be being unconsciously non-inclusive
So, what can we do to improve?
- Educate and encourage leadership and staff so they understand unconscious bias may be at play
- Leadership should seek to give key projects to those with whom they may not have a “natural affinity” as well as to those that they do
- Consider your workforce demographics and how they reflect the society around you and your customers
- Conduct employee surveys – are there instances where people perceive they have been impacted by unconscious bias?
- Advertise roles across a wider range of platforms to attract a wider range of applicants and be more open-minded in your selection criteria
- See past the educational background to a personal background, many candidates have fought hard to reach that university you might initially discount – but relative to their personal background they may have over-achieved to a greater extent when compared to someone from a more fortunate background or area, who has attended a more highly regarded university
- On an individual level practice mindfulness – take more time to think and watch your thinking as an observer. This will help you become more conscious of your own decision-making and adjust for unconscious bias where you find it
In our next blog focusing on diversity and inclusion, we will look more specifically at the different types of unconscious bias, and ways you can avoid them.
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