Bias drives us to favor a person, group, or thing over others in an unfair way. Biases may be held individually, by a group, or by an institution. In a business context, bias can sometimes have catastrophic consequences.
There are two types of bias: conscious and unconscious. Although some people are aware of their own biases and simply do not care, most of us find the notion of prejudice abhorrent and would never think of ourselves as a bigot. Nevertheless, unconscious bias is incredibly subtle. Stereotyping is instilled in us from a very young age. Each of us holds unconscious beliefs about different social and identity groups, with these biases emanating from the innate human tendency to categorize our social worlds.
Most of us recognize the need for fairness. However, unconscious bias is surprisingly common, even in the workplace. Certain situations bring these unconscious beliefs and attitudes to the fore. For example, when someone is working under serious time constraints, they may find themselves making fundamentally flawed snap decisions.
In this article, we look at four ways to recognize and overcome your own unconscious biases in the workplace.
1. Review Your Internal Conversation
When making a decision, you may believe your choice is a fair one, based on all the information before you. In reality, your decision may be clouded by preconceived notions and stereotypes.
The first step to eliminating bias is awareness. In the workplace, you should look at who you trust, the real reasons for that, and the possible implications. Human beings have to process vast amounts of information each day. To simplify this process, the brain tends to categorize the world around us, telling us what to expect.
Culture, family, and personal experience heavily influence our perception of other people. In a multifaceted society, relying on stereotyping exposes us to flawed decision-making.
2. Make Meetings More Inclusive
When entering a meeting, managers and C-level staff should greet everyone rather than simply acknowledging those they know. Delivery is also important—a smile and cheerful “Hello!” is very different from a stony-faced “Hi.”
Instead of sitting beside the same person at every meeting, effective leaders circulate. If you suspect that your perception of a particular individual may be colored by unconscious bias, you should sit next to them. Whether pitching new ideas or staging problem-solving sessions, soliciting the opinions of all, rather than just a chosen few, can be invaluable.
3. Offer Training
Every person within an organization can be vulnerable to unconscious bias. In addition to tackling your own biases head-on, you need to ensure that other employees do as well. Arranging for unconscious bias training can be effective in terms of helping employees identify their own biases and providing the tools they need to overcome any issues.
4. Blind Yourself to Bias
The resume-screening phase can heighten unconscious bias, as recruiters reject or progress applicants based on how closely the candidate aligns with their notion of the “perfect candidate.”
In one study, researchers created resumes for Asian and Black candidates, applying for 1,600 entry-level jobs advertised on job search websites. Some resumes featured details that clearly indicated the applicant’s minority status, while others were “whitened,” with every clue of ethnicity eliminated. The team found that the whitened resumes attracted more than twice as many call-backs.
By enlisting a third party to remove names and indicators of gender, age, race, and other factors from resumes, recruiters eliminate the potential for bias from the shortlisting process.
Unconscious bias damages businesses in a variety of different ways. It can lead to certain “types” of people being recruited and promoted over others, leaving employers vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit.
In concentrating on a particular demographic, recruiters effectively shrink the talent pool, compromising their ability to reach the right person for an open role. Unconscious bias not only leads to discrimination, but it can also trigger bullying and harassment in the workplace, causing some members of staff to feel excluded, impairing their sense of engagement and impacting productivity. As well as promoting favored workers beyond their capabilities, unconscious bias causes undervalued employees to become frustrated and leave.
The good news is that research from McKinsey suggests that the world’s leading companies are increasingly investing in driving diversity and inclusion to achieve a competitive advantage. This, in turn, enables them to boost employee satisfaction, retention, and performance, reaching a wider audience, and ultimately making their business more profitable.
Censia helps companies eliminate unconscious bias from the recruitment process, enabling client companies to reach and engage with the best talent and find the perfect fit for open roles. Censia’s mission is to help people and companies unlock their true potential. Harnessing the power of AI and predictive analysis, Censia’s Talent Intelligence Platform not only models and reaches the talent most likely to succeed, but it also reduces recruitment bias.