How Could Unconscious Bias Be Holding Your Business Back?

How Could Unconscious Bias Be Holding Your Business Back?

In the workplace, unconscious bias manifests itself in many ways. It is the enemy of diversity, which is a key driver of innovation.

Few people care to admit that they are biased, but the fact is, from the moment we are born, we are constantly bombarded with subliminal messages that color our perception and judgment. It can be hard for us to pick up on our own unconscious biases, but in the workplace, we must do our best to try.

Workshops are an excellent place to start. They train participants to recognize their own unconscious bias, providing the tools and processes needed to minimize their impact. By simply recognizing bias, we can limit its negative impact and use our awareness to improve the decision-making process.

What is unconscious bias?

Human beings innately seek out other individuals who look, act, and think in similar ways to them. Every day, the human brain processes vast amounts of information—often unconsciously—with thought processes barely registering. Bias manifests itself as prejudices and preferences for or against a particular faction of society.

Conscious bias, otherwise known as explicit bias, occurs where a person knowingly discriminates against a social group. Unconscious bias, however, is far more subtle, with people unaware of their flawed thinking or its impact. Unconscious bias is often at odds with the person’s conscious values, and it is based on social stereotypes about certain demographics stemming from the intrinsic human trait of categorizing people and things. Since unconscious bias often goes unchecked, it is far more common than conscious bias.

Unconscious biases typically develop in childhood. They have a direct impact on behavior. Fortunately, once an individual learns to recognize their own biases and stereotyping, they can start to unravel it, minimizing the impact.

A vast amount of research has been published investigating the impact of unconscious bias in various domains, including education, the criminal justice system, and health care. An obvious consequence of bias is flawed hiring decisions, but research suggests that unconscious bias could even contribute to healthcare disparities.

In one study, researchers responded to help-wanted ads with a selection of fictitious resumes—some with White-sounding names, and some with Black-sounding names. The team found that the resumes with White-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews on average.

Since 1997, over 30 studies have been published on the impact of unconscious bias in clinical decision-making. The findings revealed that racial bias influenced the medical decision-making of healthcare providers.

What is the impact of unconscious bias on businesses?

According to Forbes, the human brain consciously processes 40 pieces of information every single second. By contrast, the unconscious mind handles a staggering 11 million snippets of information in that same time. With such vast amounts of information to handle, the unconscious makes many of our decisions for us without the conscious becoming aware. This incurs significant risk in terms of unconscious bias. It is therefore crucial for businesses to educate staff, helping them to develop and maintain an inclusive, high-performing culture.

Bias takes many different forms. Some of the most common include:

  • Attribution Bias
  • Perception Bias
  • Contrast Effect
  • Affinity Bias
  • Gender Bias
  • Ageism
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Height Bias
  • Name Bias
  • Conformity Bias

Bias hurts businesses in many ways. Our inbuilt tendency to seek out people who are like us impedes our ability to achieve workplace diversity—a key component in terms of driving diversity of thought, creativity, and innovation to secure workplace productivity and profitability. Biases can creep into every interaction we have, from the language we use to formulate job specifications, to our hiring and promoting decisions, to overlooking substandard performance in an employee simply because we like them.

In the world of recruitment, stereotyping and bias are detrimental to people on both sides of the fence. When bias impedes hiring decisions, it not only costs candidates job opportunities, it costs businesses top-tier talent—talent that may well end up being utilized by rival companies. Within the workplace, biases could lead to preferential treatment for some employees and discrimination for others, placing the business at risk of reputational damage and the significant costs involved in defending a lawsuit.

How can you overcome unconscious bias?

Implicit biases are difficult to address because, by their nature, they are challenging to recognize and accept. Nevertheless, there are several steps employers can take to address the issue, including:

  • Establishing a diversity and inclusion committee
  • Slowing down decision-making processes
  • Monitoring each other for evidence of unconscious bias and calling attention to it
  • Educating employees on the signs of bias and associated negative consequences

Censia is a talent intelligence platform that eradicates unconscious bias from the recruitment process. It helps clients reach the most qualified candidate for the job,  irrespective of ability, gender, socio-economic background, race, religion, or age, in a fraction of the time it takes using traditional recruitment channels.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.