What is Unconscious Bias? Some Ideas to Address it at the Workplace.

By Etheline Desir | Desir Group | LeadershipBrief.com

Bias is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or groups of people, and unconscious bias are feelings that play a strong part in influencing our judgement of certain people and groups, subverting balance in many different areas of life. It’s important to note that most bias stereotypes do not come from a place of bad intent, but rather a deep seated, unconscious stereotype that has been formed in our mind through years of different influences.

One of the most prominent areas of life where bias can play out is in the workplace. In fact, two of the strongest biases we face there are race and gender. We have all heard it said that “women are more difficult to work for than men” and “bringing a leader of color into a homogeneous team will negatively impact the team dynamics” – neither of which is factual.

Some are calling the actions of the manager and the Philadelphia policemen in the recent Starbucks incident acts of unconscious bias. These draconian actions speak to the dangers of unconscious bias in the workplace. Recruiting, candidate selection, promotions, and reward recognition are more common areas where such practices manifest themselves on a regular basis.

Here are some tips to address your personal unconscious bias:

  1. Understand that 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.
  2. Become aware of your own biases and understand their potential impact in the workplace. When you identify 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 or others uncomfortable.
  3. When making critical decisions, be sure to 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.
  4. If you identify a colleague who may be making decisions with potential bias, engage them in a constructive conversation to identify any possible biases in their decision.
  5. When working with diverse colleagues, understand that your perceptions of bias may simply be the result of a lack of understanding 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 wholesale plan for decreasing unconscious bias in the workplace is usually not necessary. However, by improving one’s awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, individuals may begin to change the way they think about and engage with diversity issues. Google’s Making the Unconscious Conscious video makes the case that understanding unconscious bias is critical to creating an inclusive workplace.


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