Before we address the question of “unconscious bias” in the workplace, it’s important to take a step back and define the term. Unconscious bias refers to the hidden beliefs that impact our perceptions of others. “Unconscious bias” is also a hot topic, appearing on the human capital agendas of many organizations today. Google’s Making the Unconscious Conscious video, for example, makes the case that understanding unconscious bias is critical to creating an inclusive workplace.
At Aperian, we partner with organizations to improve their global diversity and inclusion efforts – and one of the best ways to do this is by creating awareness of unconscious bias in the workplace and its impact on workplace decisions and behavior. When we do this, we all reap the benefits of greater productivity, creativity, and innovation (as evidenced in this landmark McKinsey piece, “Why Diversity Matters.”
So, wondering how to address unconscious bias in the workplace? Below, we’ll point a few helpful steps to help organizations do just that.
Understand that unconscious bias is normal
Unconscious biases are the implicit positive or negative preferences for things, individuals, or groups shaped through our individual experiences. These snap judgments can have huge implications for the way we work. Unconscious bias makes us believe we are making decisions about an individual’s capabilities, professionalism, or ability to contribute based on rational details when, in reality, these are based on our personal preferences.
Until recently, there was a tendency to think that having biases made us bad people. However, neuroscience research has demonstrated that human beings are hardwired to prefer those who resemble us or show similar features. Therefore, companies need to start understanding unconscious bias in the workplace is normal. What makes biases “bad” is a lack of awareness regarding how they influence our decisions and impact others.
Identify your biases and their potential impact in the workplace
It is important for you to become aware of the biases you may have and understand the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. Think about your own potential biases and decision-making patterns; after you identify your own implicit biases, consider how these may play out in the workplace. How does unconscious bias affect who you invite to meetings, who you speak with more easily, and whose opinions influence your decisions?
Broaden your viewpoint and educate others
Another key to address unconscious biases? Broadening your viewpoint and educating others. Think about these four critical steps:
- When identifying a negative bias that you may have, make a conscious effort to learn more about that idea, individual, or group to understand how and why it makes you uncomfortable.
- When making critical decisions, ensure you invite others who can broaden your viewpoint and balance any hidden biases. Ask peers representing other viewpoints for feedback on potential preference patterns you may have and actively listen to their feedback.
- If you identify a colleague who may be making a decision with potential bias, engage them in a constructive conversation to identify any possible biases in their decision.
- When working with global colleagues, understand that your perceptions of bias may simply result from a lack of understanding of cultural differences. Increase your awareness and understanding of the cultures you may be working with to better understand any potential biases you may have.
By improving one’s awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, individuals can begin to change how they think about and engage with diversity issues. Be sure to step back and ask:
- “What biases might I have?”
- “What impact does this have in the workplace?”
- “What will I do about this?”
Increasing one’s awareness and engaging in productive dialogue is the first step in the journey of creating a globally inclusive workplace.
Note: Updated September 2020.