The Importance of Addressing Unconscious Bias

Mar 14 2024 | Insights
Two women discussing unconscious bias

Understanding unconscious bias

Unconscious, or implicit, bias is a difficult concept for many to accept. It refers to the prejudices we hold that sit beyond our conscious awareness. Our brain has a tendency to take mental shortcuts that lead to snap judgments influenced by personal experiences, cultural heritage, social stereotypes and many other factors. Biases exist for a reason – they help us navigate the large amount of information around us, and can even be helpful (for example, trusting medical information more readily from a doctor). However many are based on inaccurate and stereotypical information and can lead to unfair assumptions made about someone based on their gender, ethnicity, weight and other characteristics.

This can very often contribute to a lack of equality in the workplace and a glass ceiling for certain individuals.

Leaders have a responsibility to recognise and make others aware of their unconscious bias so as not to leave it unchecked.

Overcoming your own unconscious bias

For many, accepting they may have been guided by something other than their good sense can be hard to grapple with. The trick is to focus on bypassing that bias, rather than dwelling on it. There are resources designed to help us recognize and overcome unconscious bias, such as Project Implicit, which offers a range of tests to help you bring any of your own biases to light. Users can choose from an array of topics such as religion, age, sexuality and disability.

Another tip is to simply ask someone you trust for candid feedback about your past decisions and attitudes. Once you’ve identified your unconscious bias and any decisions that may have happened as a consequence, be ready to admit your mistakes and take the opportunity to improve your future self.

By surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people, biases are less likely to develop. Make an effort to step out of your comfort zone and socialize with people who may have different beliefs, experiences and cultural backgrounds.

Addressing unconscious bias in the workplace

A business's potential skyrockets when unconscious bias is addressed. The result is a wonderfully diverse team of people that is more able to adapt, collaborate and innovate than a homogenous workforce.

Mitigating unconscious bias across your organization is no small feat. Unconscious bias training can be important for increasing knowledge of biases, and this can be helpful in certain situations where awareness is lacking. However, research on the effectiveness of procedures in changing implicit bias finds that unconscious bias training rarely translates to an impactful change in behaviour, and any positive effects are usually small and short term. Instead, organizations should focus on implementing a wider, long-term DEI strategy that supports structural change. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Reassess your hiring process

    The wording on job advertisements can discourage certain people from applying. For example, gendered terms like ‘chairman’ should be changed to more neutral alternatives. You could also implement blind recruitment to bypass any potential bias in your decision to interview someone.

    Additionally, interviews should be a standardized process for everyone. Unstructured interviews are actually one of the worst ways to ascertain someone’s on-the-job potential, despite being widely preferred. With an unstructured interview, it’s easy to let our bias affect a hiring decision – something as simple as a candidate supporting the same sports team could influence a decision in their favour.

    There are plenty of metrics you can stick to during the interview process to avoid cognitive bias, such as focusing on their skills, experience and education. There are also personality tests, mental ability tests and aptitude tests designed specifically to provide an impartial method of assessing candidates.

  • Ensure your hiring staff is also diverse.

    In order to ensure inclusive hiring, the decision-making staff should be an example of diversity. This way you aren’t hiring the same sort of person again and again.

  • Stop asking if a candidate will ‘fit in’.

    While good company culture is incredibly important, it’s easy to fall into the habit of hiring individuals who mirror the existing team. Instead of asking whether someone will ‘fit in’ to your existing culture, instead ask what potential they have to enhance and improve things.

  • Set goals for diversity, equity and inclusion.

    It’s important that your organization is able to make tangible progress by addressing unconscious biases and championing diversity in the workplace. Setting goals will help hold the whole team accountable and ensure you start to see the benefits of an inclusive workplace quickly.

EZRA’s diversity and inclusion coaching is designed to showcase the true power of an equal-opportunity organization and help transform your DEI goals into a reality.

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