Overcoming Workplace Unconscious Bias

2nd December 2014

Unconscious bias is actually a rather scary concept, but it is nonetheless something that nearly everybody is subject to. In simple terms, unconscious bias refers to the biases that we have towards others that are not in our conscious control. When we meet people, we make instant assessments of them, normally based on our own experiences, and cultural environment and background.

Most of us like to believe that we’re open-minded and objective, however, in reality, many of our opinions, values and beliefs stem from our families, our culture, and a lifetime of experiences which all combine to heavily influence how we view and judge other people and ourselves. These biases that we have all built up over time help us to process information quickly and efficiently, which, from a survival standpoint, can actually equate to a positive and necessary trait after all it’s something natural which we have, without purposeful intervention and little control.

However, as we all now know in 2014, bias can in fact have severely negative impacts on people and indeed in businesses if we lose our objectiveness and ultimately make unfounded judgements which lead to missed opportunities.

Bias in the Workplace

In the workplace, unconscious biases can mean that we sometimes treat a specific group or individual based on a set of assumptions that we perhaps don’t fully appreciate that we hold. However this is not behaviour which could be described as rational, and only by recognising these biases within ourselves that we can start to tackle and ultimately remove them.

And remove them we must try to do, for the effects of bias, however subtle, can actually be quite devastating to a business and its community. If we don’t show each and every member of a team an equal amount of warmth and acceptance, over time, this failure to interact with everybody on an equal basis can impact an organisation quite negatively: staff can begin to feel alienated, and a whole host of problems can begin to unfold.

It’s therefore very important that you begin to put in place some initiatives to start the process of overcoming unconscious bias throughout your company, and with the proper training this can be done quite readily. So below we’ve put together 5 tactics that for overcoming unconscious bias in the workplace.

1. Begin With Participants Exploring Their Own Unconscious Biases

Your course should begin with helping your participants to explore their own levels of unconscious bias what are they? Where do they come from? How do they affect their behaviour towards others? Once these issues have been identified, only then can issues of bias in the workplace be addressed. Breaking the habit of bias always begins with initial recognition of the habit in the first instance. Gaining insight into the subconscious helps us to realize the issues that need to be addressed and tackled.

Participants can be encouraged to write down what they think their biases might be, why they think they have them, and to recall an occasion where their biases have been proved wrong. To help participants identify what their biases may be, there is an online Implicit Association Test (IAT) that can be taken to help people identify their unconscious preferences.

2. Use Simulation

Participants can often benefit by being submerged in a simulated environment as a new employee amongst a group of others, for instance. The simulation can involve the micro-gestures or lack of eye contact that are often associated with our unconscious biases. Other simulations can include conducting interviews, reviewing appraisals and dealing with customers.

Putting the participant in the shoes of the recipient of a prejudice can help enlighten them towards their own behaviours and how damaging even the subtlest of gestures may be.

3. Choose the Right Facilitator

Not just anybody should be given the role of unconscious bias training. This is a serious topic, and therefore must be the reserve of somebody who is passionate about it, for this passion will be infectious. Trainers should always be highly qualified in diversity, social psychology and attitude formation.

It’s also imperative that their style be non-threatening, inclusive, and they must also not resort to using guilt trips, as this can lead to resentment of the course, rendering the content redundant.

4. Use Counter-stereotyping and Debiasing Activities and Representations

In your courseware, it’s important to start making associations that are contrary to existing stereotypes. For example, think about incorporating media that features male nurses, elderly athletes, female bus drivers etc. The idea is to challenge participants’?expectations, and therefore shed light on their own biases, whilst at the same time challenging them.

5. Micro-inequities and Micro-affirmations

Participants need to be made aware of how they might be displaying micro-inequities which show their unconscious bias at work. Micro-inequities are the small, sometimes barely perceptible gestures things like eye-rolling, mispronouncing someone’s name repeatedly, not introducing a person which can leave the target unsure if they really are being alienated, or just being over-sensitive.

Over time, if a person experiences lots of these, then it can lead to low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to low productivity and even depression.

Micro-affirmations are the remedy to micro-inequities. They are small gestures of inclusion and respect that anyone can make. Using them means that you’ re consciously overriding your own unconscious biases in order to become fairer, more thoughtful and more respectful in our perceptions and dealings with colleagues.

Marshall ACM run a 1-day Unconscious Bias Training Course which acts as a supplement to our Unconscious Bias E-Learning module which is designed for professionals and employees who are seeking to gain insight into unconscious bias and workplace behaviour. Get in touch to find out more.

Watch ‘Unconscious Bias: How it affects your business’ featuring Dan Robertson, Diversity and Inclusion Manager of ENEI:

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