How to Address Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
Below we identify a few key steps to help organizations successfully address unconscious bias:
1. 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.
2. Identify your biases and their potential impact in the workplace
It is important for you to become aware of the biases that you may have and to understand the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. Take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to identify 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?
3. Broaden your viewpoint and educate others
- 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 may balance out any hidden biases you may have. 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 be the result of 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.
Eliminating unconscious bias in the workplace starts with understanding that predispositions are ubiquitous and only those with a negative impact need to be addressed. A wholescale plan for decreasing unconscious bias in the workplace is usually not necessary. However, by improving one’s awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, individuals can begin to change the way 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?” and “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 global inclusive workplace.