Why you can’t ignore unconscious bias in the workplace

By |2018-06-22T17:28:00+00:00March 1st, 2017|Categories: Advice|Tags: |

Your decisions are all influenced by a number of factors. Your personal experiences, background and environmental conditions all affect your choices whether you realise it or not. In many situations this isn’t an issue and, more often than not, we make the right choice based on what we’ve learned naturally and have past experience of.

Unconscious bias happens when we make incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without realising.  The problem is that when unconscious bias is against certain characteristics, it can be deemed discriminatory.

In the workplace, unconscious bias may have an impact on recruitment, mentoring and promotions if action isn’t taken to recognise the signs and attempt to eliminate it from decisions concerning employees.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that unconscious bias may influence the evaluation and selection of applicants from entry-level to management positions in all types of organisations

“Science faculty rated male applicants for a laboratory manager position as significantly more competent and hireable than female applicants. Faculty also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant (Moss-Racusin et al, 2012).”

Unconscious bias adversely affects diversity within an organisation and the benefits that a workforce with varying backgrounds and experiences offer. These benefits include:

  • Improved understanding of your customer base
  • Increased productivity
  • Greater innovation and creativity
  • Enhanced skill-set
  • Improved onboarding and retention
  • Improved talent pool
  • Enhanced talent and employer brand

 

google diversity stats

Google publically admitted that when it comes to diversity, it could do better. In May, 2014, Google went public with some dismal diversity numbers, admitting that 70% of its 56,000 employees were men, only 3% were Latino, and only 2% were African American. Source: Guynn, 2015

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

– Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google

Google have since taken steps to increase diversity including employee workshops and environmental changes.

Research conducted by Jaluch this year revealed the extent to which we are unconsciously biased: 67% of the British public admits to feeling uncomfortable talking to a disabled person; gay and lesbian job seekers are 5% less likely to get an interview; and 80% of employers admit to making decisions based on regional accents. Source: The Guardian

The main biases that affect the workplace include:

  • Affinity bias: The tendency to warm up to people like ourselves
  • Halo effect: The tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person
  • Perception bias: The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that make it impossible to make an objective judgement about members of those groups
  • Confirmation bias: The tendency for people to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions
  • Group think: This bias occurs when people try too hard to fit into a particular group by mimicking others or holding back thoughts and opinions. This causes them to lose part of their identities and causes organisations to lose out on creativity and innovation (Price, n.d)

 

Source: Kenan Flagler Business School

The first step to addressing unconscious biases in the workplace is to acknowledge that everyone has them. Educating business leaders and employees will enable individuals to realise when they’re being biased and take appropriate action.

“…in the UK, two thirds of people polled who were in top executive positions showed bias they may not have been aware of”

The Guardian

Harvard Business Review advise that there are 3 main strategies which can be implemented in the workplace to tackle unconscious bias:

  • Priming – By educating employees to particular biases that they may exhibit they are able to consider these during decision making processes
  • Reorganising structures and systems – process consistency throughout the business, from recruitment to performance reviews, will help to reduce biases
  • Accountability – where potential biases are identified within a business they should be investigated to ensure that the decisions made were valid

Sentiment analysis, offboarding, appraisals and end of probation interviews can all be utilised as a resource for invaluable information regarding the decision making within the business.

Listening to employee (whether current, exiting or past) feedback will help HR and business leaders to identify those areas that require improvement and, conversely, where the brand may be performing well when it comes to biases and diversity.