Workplace bias reveals itself in many forms. But the results are always the same – parts of the workforce being unfairly excluded from experiences and opportunities, even if they are qualified.
The most common type of bias is ‘implicit‘ or ‘unconscious.’
As implied, it is not apparent and conscious. It affects our decisions more subtly. Confronting this type of bias requires skill. People are generally not aware they are doing it. But recognising that the bias exists if the critical factor in reducing its influence.
How bias impacts the workplace
Unconscious bias brings extraneous factors into the decision-making process. Factors such as age, ethnicity, gender, and weight can play a role in personal assessments of candidates and employees. These impact the decision to hire, fire, and promote. It fundamentally impacts the diversity and opportunity in the workplace. While this type of bias is unintentional, it doesn’t change the fact that it is still unfair.
What is implicit bias?
Unconscious bias is the cognitive equivalent of muscle memory. Due to the brain’s tendency to create shortcuts, everyone has unconscious biases.
The human mind creates connections and groups things together for easy access and to make things comfortable and familiar.
When faced with unfamiliar situations, it disproportionately pulls from associations, like stereotypes, to make a relaxed and comfortable preference. In this way, we can make partial decisions while still consciously believing that prejudice is wrong.
Here are several ways you can make sure you are not falling into implicit bias in the workplace.
As with all innovation in the organisation, you need to let everyone know that you are making bias mitigation a priority.
It doesn’t need to be complicated, just tell them why – to build a more inclusive work culture, and when it will be happening. You can garner feedback to drive the process through an anonymous survey into the extent of the issue. The more feedback you gather, the more data you have to build appropriate and specific interventions.
This is where most efforts to establish a diversified workforce go wrong. Mandatory bias and diversity training never works.
Threats don’t create champions for the cause. They aggravate existing biases and foster animosity towards the groups the training is designed to support.
On the other hand, voluntary programs work because participants see themselves of pro-diversity. And the way we think about ourselves directly feeds the way we act. These champions are naturally influential and pull their more sceptical co-workers along.
Build Bias Awareness
Educate your willing volunteers. It is a tough concept to fully appreciate. There are free tests that work via word-picture association to measure unconscious biases toward specific groups.
The goal of bias awareness is to make the decision-making process more mindful.
You want your leaders to keep their implicit biases in mind when they are evaluating performance, hiring staff, or nominating a team member for promotion. Then they are less likely to rely on the cognitive shortcuts to make the decision comfortable.
Reduce Opportunities for Bias through Structure
If you spend time in making sure your processes and procedures reduce the influence of bias, it can help address it at a structural level.
- Self-evaluations might seem like a warm and fuzzy way to mitigate bias in traditional performance evaluation. But there is evidence to suggest distinct differences in both gender and culture that impact on self-promotion. This self-evaluation then ultimately has implications on the manager’s evaluation. Self-evaluations should be discussed after a manager presents their review, not before.
- Implement a formalised mentorship program where mentees are matched to skills development. Mentors instinctively want their mentees to succeed, irrespective of demographic.
- Develop opportunities for intergroup contact. Working with individuals from different groups to break down reliance on stereotypes. Have the management trainees work in various roles for short periods.
- Encourage managers to interview a diverse group of candidates for each open role.
- Set the expectation that personal decisions from managers need to be back with data and explainable. Asking the decision-makers to explain their reasoning, increases the mindfulness of their choices.
Remember, a diverse organisation is one where creativity and innovation thrive.
Keep working towards eliminating implicit biases that keep the organisation stuck in the past. With consistent effort, you can move your organisation towards a ‘healthy workplace for all.‘