As human beings we’ve been hard-wired to make quick, unconscious decisions about people, places, and things since the beginning of time - it’s primal.
The issue, however, is that as we’ve evolved, the need for making these types of decisions has diminished. After all, we no longer live in exposed caves or have trouble comprehending the idea of a warm fire.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away from the fact that we haven’t yet evolved past making these fast, intuitive (and often incorrect) decisions about other people. We still have the tendency to go about our daily lives making unconscious judgments that subsequently affect our attitudes and behaviours towards others, causing negative consequences both in life and at work.
So, how can we - as modern humans - combat unconscious bias in the workplace? Below we give you some pointers.
What is unconscious bias?
Before going over how to combat unconscious bias, it’s best that we first go over what unconscious bias actually is.
Simply put, unconscious biases are social stereotypes we place on particular individuals or groups of people that we’ve formed outside our own awareness, consciousness, or control.
From a fundamental standpoint (again, going back to human evolution), our unconscious bias is essential as this type of pre-judging helps us to make decisions that could - quite literally - save our lives. Today, this type of social categorisation helps us manage our day-to-day encounters with ease.
This decision-making process isn’t always the most effective - or logical - as the majority of our unconscious biases lie within the realm of ignorance or assumption. So, whether we mean to or not, this tends to lead to painting people with the wrong brush.
Why is it important to recognise it?
While developing unconscious bias is a natural part of the human experience, recognising unconscious bias is important - especially in the workplace - because its existence is to blame for a lot of key issues in organisations, including:
- Unfair recruitment and hiring processes
- Lack of diversity and inclusion
- Bullying, harassment, and discrimination
- Lack of employee engagement and productivity
- The negative impact on employee retention rates, and
- The hindrance of employee development
These issues typically come about due to factors that lead to (often unfair) biases, such as:
- Social identity: implicit bias or stereotypes that have been formed based on a person’s gender, ethnicity, race, or other social categories.
- Choice of dress: what someone wears can have a profound impact on what hiring managers and co-workers think of them.
- How someone speaks: people tend to make assumptions based on people’s social accents or ways of speaking, and at work, this might affect how managers see you fitting into the business.
- Assumptions based on a CV: when employers look at previous work, volunteer, and education experience on a CV, assumptions are often made based on these noted experiences and can work either in favour of a candidate or against their progression.
Whether we realise it or not, when we perceive any of the above factors as favourable, we typically overlook any of the negative attributes a potential or current employee might have and the same goes for the other way around - also known as the ‘Halo Effect’.
When we allow our negative biases to get in the way, however, we can overlook what positive and valuable traits, skills and perspectives a person can bring to the table, which, over time, becomes a true detriment to organisations and their employees.