Impact of Unconscious Bias

8th July 2016

Treating people with dignity and respect at work should be at the heart of behaviour at work. However, this is not always the case.

The most recognised category of inappropriate behaviours are bullying and harassment. There has been a myriad of advice, guidance and interventions produced in this area, but there is often one element missing from these discussions: Unconscious Bias.

The impact of Unconscious Bias in influencing these behaviours at work is something that needs to be given more credence, especially for employers looking to create an inclusive workplace.

The current Definition of Bullying according to ACAS is:

‘Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual.’

Most people use bullying and harassment interchangeably. Generally, harassment is unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It could be based on any of the protected characteristics or any personal characteristic and may be continuous or a one-off incident. All of the reasons for harassment could be based on either conscious or unconscious biases.

Covert or subliminal bullying and harassment can be influenced even more by Unconscious Bias. The link to unconscious bias could be in the manifestation of differential treatment to individuals for no apparent reason. From a training perspective, managers and employees should be aware that letting unconscious bias go unchecked could lead to increasing covert or subliminal bullying.

Our behaviour at work may not be restricted to obvious bullying or harassment but may also include exclusion or victimisation, unfair treatment and overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position

Some areas where Unconscious Bias may impact behaviours at work are:

  1. The allocation of work or projects: Do certain people always get the best opportunities because of what we think about them rather than their suitability?
  2. Professional Development: Are we balanced in the provision of developmental opportunities for everyone or do we always exclude certain people?
  3. Promotions: Do we have unconscious reasons for promoting certain types of individuals, do we exclude others for spurious reasons or what we heard or read about them?
  4. Flexible working: Do we only allow this for women? Or is really open to anyone? Do we treat flexible workers the same as full-time employees?

There can be a number of reasons why inappropriate, unfair or unwelcome behaviour at work takes place.

What one key intervention can be used to ensure that bullying in the workplace doesn’t happen in your company? Recognising Unconscious Bias.

Isn’ t it time you started including Unconscious Bias training as part of your recruitment process?

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