When our brain relies on snap judgements to make important decisions, equality within our workplaces and our communities is what suffers. NICHOLA JOHNSTON reports.
Collectively smarter, more innovative and an increased ability
to problem solve… what organisation wouldn’t want that for
Research on diversity within organisations has been extensive
over the last decade with an endless stream of studies proving
just how beneficial a diverse and inclusive workforce can be for
an organisation. And yes, we have placed focus on stamping out
obvious and blatant discrimination with legislation making this
more difficult to brush under the carpet (although there is still
significant room for improvement), but that isn’t enough. In our
fight to create diverse and inclusive workplaces we need to tap
into the not so obvious discriminator within us all. That’s right, you
and I, your mother, brother and colleague are all subconsciously
contributing to inequality within our workplaces and communities.
It occurs in the form of unconscious biases… when our brains make
quick judgements of people and circumstances without us even
realising it has occurred. Our brain makes these snap judgements
by relying on all our previous experiences, family upbringing,
friends, schooling, the list goes on. Much like the fight or flight
response to stress, unconscious biases are necessary from a survival
perspective. However, our brains often use this same process and
apply it to situations that are not life threatening such as managing
a team at work which can, at times, lead to costly mistakes. So
while our brains are hardwired to make unconscious decisions in
order to get through all the decisions we have to make on a daily
basis, when it comes to making choices in the workplace, it is
important that these are carefully thought through and not made
as a result of snap judgements. Not convinced your unconscious
bias impacts diversity in your workplace…? Maybe you need a
light bulb moment like this.
“Sometimes people think they understand bias, but really they don’t. I remember one CEO (in another organisation) who said “I get diversity” but one of my staff challenged him by asking “What time is your first meeting?” He replied “7:30”. So then she asked “Who takes the kids to school?”. The penny dropped for him and he responded, “It’s difficult isn’t it”.”
(Deloitte, Creating the ‘light bulb moment’ 2011).
So repeat after me, “I am bias even if I don’t think I am”. Right now
that we have all admitted we have room for improvement, it’s important
that you understand the different types of biases that may be at play in
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 thinking: 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).
These types of biases directly affect important decisions that are made
within workplaces such as who we hire, promote, mistrust, align with
and give responsibility to. It can also contribute to creating cultures
where violence against women and sexism is accepted, so diversity
and unconscious bias training has been highlighted as a preventative
measure for domestic and family violence.
So how do you minimize bias in the workplace?
All employees play a significant role in uncovering and combating
unconscious bias, starting with yourself. So how can you stop
unconscious bias influencing your decisions in the workplace?
Acknowledge that you, just like everyone else, have unconscious
biases that you need to address. Because your unconscious biases
are exactly that, unconscious, getting to know what yours are isn’t
as simple as doing some simple self reflection. Get to know your
unconscious bias by completing some implicit association tests
is areas such as race, sexuality, weight, age, gender etc.
Now that you know what your unconscious biases are, get mindful
about how your language reiterates these biases and start reframing
them to be inclusive in nature. A really simple example is, “Hey guys”
as a greeting. Now, while this is not intended to be exclusive to women,
in the spirit of communication clarity, it can be misconstrued.
Practice mindfulness meditation to improve your perspective and clarity.
Doing this on a regular basis will help your mental processes to be
less reactive, giving you time to make smart and informed decisions rather
than relying on snap judgements that are heavily influence by your unconscious
As a manager/HR professional your unconscious biases have a significant impact
on the diversity and equality within the organisation you work for. As a people
manager you can bolster your organisation’s diversity and equality by:
Making Others Aware of Unconscious Biases
A large majority of people are unaware of the unconscious bias concept and don’t
realise that everyone has them. Awareness training/seminars are a great way to
give employees the information they need to know on this topic and how they can
go about combatting them in their everyday decision making.
As a manager/leader/HR professional within an organization it is important
that you take stock of the processes where unconscious biases are in play
and what types of unconscious biases are likely to occur in these processes.
These might include, but are not limited to; performance reviews, promotions,
recruitment, selection, on boarding, assignment process, mentoring programs,
terminations and team meetings.
Put in Place New Processes
To mitigate the inequalities that unconscious biases create in the workplace,
you need to slow down the cogs to prevent those in decision making positions
reverting back to their brain’s automatic decision making process. These new
processes might include, stripping identifying information from resumes in the
recruitment process or putting in place standardized questions in the interview
process to ensure all candidates have equal opportunity. The question is, what
kind of organisation do you want to work in? One that accepts, encourages and
celebrates our differences or one that perpetuate stereotypes?