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Tackling Unconscious Bias at Workplace

17 min read

Unconscious biases have a significant role in the entirety of our decisions, despite how difficult it can be to acknowledge this. Prejudice towards a particular race, religion, gender identity, and so on may exist in our minds. 

The issue is that these prejudices have a nasty habit of showing up in ways that are bad for the job. 

If unconscious biases are not controlled, companies and the people who work for them may allow these biases to affect their decisions in a way that negatively impacts employees based on their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other protected traits. One of the first stages in building a more inclusive workplace is to recognize and overcome unconscious bias. 

What is unconscious bias at workplace?  

Before delving into unconscious or implicit prejudices, we must first address explicit biases. Whether they are aimed towards a person or a group, these are biases that we are aware of having. People who are obviously racist or sexist, for instance, are frequently conscious of their prejudice. In fact, they might be honest about it and see it as a part of who they are. 

Contrarily, implicit biases have an impact on our decisions or actions without our awareness. Due to the difficulty of acknowledging unconscious biases, many people find it awkward to address them. However, everyone has implicit biases. 

Because we are constantly exposed to information, our brains organize it in ways that lead to unconscious bias. Our brain develops short cuts to assist us organize what we are observing since we are unable to digest all of the information that is provided to us at once. This categorization, which is based on mental associations, enables us to digest more information at once. 

Types of common unconscious bias  

The Employment Equality Act of 2010 guarantees that employees are safeguarded from discrimination in the workplace based on a list of protected characteristics, including gender, race, and sexual orientation. This does not imply that all employees receive equal opportunity, though. Unconscious bias may be at the blame for this. 

Unconscious bias comes in many forms and can have a negative impact on your employees. See how various biases emerge in the workplace by studying these different types of implicit bias in the workplace. 

Types-of-Unconscious-Bias-Infographic

Gender bias 

A bias against or in favor of someone based on their gender is known as gender bias. For instance, research has revealed that female employees frequently receive less detailed and pragmatic feedback from male bosses, which may have an impact on their professional growth and future possibilities. 

Ageism  

Ageism is a bias that is built on presumptions about the abilities or work attitudes of people in a particular age group. An illustration of age bias is when a hiring manager declines an older applicant for a digital position on the grounds that they won’t be able to use the latest software. 

Name bias  

Name bias, a kind of race and cultural bias, is the practice of making judgments about someone’s identity based solely on their given name. The usual causes include discrimination based on race, culture, gender, or age. For instance, hiring managers and recruiters frequently pay less attention to resumes with traditional or complex names. To reduce this kind of bias, several businesses utilize technology to eradicate identifiable information from resumes and applications, like names. 

Affinity bias  

Affinity bias, often referred to as similarity prejudice, is a bias we have toward those who are like us. We frequently think that getting along with people who share our traits will be easier. For instance, a hiring manager might have a bias in favor of an applicant with comparable interests or a background. 

Confirmation bias  

Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to look for facts or circumstances that support their preconceived notions, even if such facts or circumstances are just circumstantial. When a management assumes that a employee’s poor performance on a task was caused by their impairment, this is an example of confirmation bias at action. In that case, the manager fails to pursue further investigation into potential contributing issues, such as inadequate training or guidance. 

Attribution bias  

Attribution bias is a bias that results from placing the blame for a particular event on outside factors rather than on a person’s own actions. For instance, a boss might believe that a woman’s success in completing a difficult work was the result of other influences rather than her own efforts. 

Conformity bias  

Our propensity to be swayed by and follow the majority is referred to as conformity bias. For example, if four of the five interview panel members share a background, the final panelist may agree with the majority rather than disagree on a matter. A more varied panel can encourage minority panelists to voice their concerns, preventing the perspective of the majority from automatically taking the lead. 

Halo effect  

The halo effect happens when one aspect that you see as favorable dominates all other aspects. The halo effect can be seen in action when a hiring manager favors an applicant because they attended their former school, even when it has no bearing on their performance potential. 

Horns effect  

Similar to halo effect, the horns effect happens when a factor that you perceive as bad affects your decision-making. The horns effect, on the other hand, may occur when a manager assigns an employee a negative performance rating because of a single subpar performance. 

Contrast effect  

The contrast effect is a bias that frequently leads to valuing something in connection to or in comparison to another object. For instance, instead of evaluating other team members’ performance against objective baselines when you have a high performer on your team, you might compare them to that performer. 

Do’s and Don’ts to mitigate unconscious workplace bias 

Don’ts 

Promotion announcement of one employee shouldn’t be done arbitrarily 

Others on the team, especially those with comparable qualifications, experience, and tenure with the organization, would become disgruntled if they weren’t informed of or even given the chance to be considered for promotions. 

They might question if the promotion of their coworker was actually justified by legitimate business factors, such as performance, competence, merit, or knowledge, or if the decision to promote was unfair or discriminatory. 

Appreciating the same people for their work 

When compared to “the favorites,” employees who receive your appreciation rarely or never, may feel overlooked and underappreciated. 

Never compliment personal qualities in order to highlight an employee’s exceptional performance as it can stir resentment among other team members. 

Distancing from employees you do not connect with as much as with others 

Employees may experience this as being despised, disregarded, or unsupportive for unexplained reasons. 

Avoid choosing the same people i.e. do not have a go-to list of employees  

The potential of other employees that you haven’t given as much attention to may therefore be overlooked by you. As a result, your team may get resentful of some of the team members and wonder why some are given resources and attention that may help advance their careers. 

If someone is consistently ignored in favor of “the favorites,” they will notice and may grow to be frustrated and disinterested. 

Do’s 

Follow a set procedure to refrain from being accused of bias 

Have a promotion policy that outlines the requirements for each open position in detail. Procedures for announcing open positions internally and outlining the application process should be part of this policy. All employees should have access to and transparency in the promotion process. Everyone should believe they are competing on an even playing field and be aware of the requirements for promotions. 

Ensure participation of more than one decision-maker to maintain objectivity in the process and to guard against one person’s implicit biases tainting the result. (This is one situation when having varied leadership with a diverse range of insights is beneficial). 

Have continuing, regular performance reviews so that everyone is aware of their status. 

Appreciations and acknowledgements should be done fairly for everyone in the team 

Consider whether you are praising someone in openly or discreetly and use the same approach with each team member. Keep in mind that for many employees, receiving praise for their efforts is almost as vital as the task itself. When they perform well, the majority of people want to be recognized. 

To establish objective standards for what qualifies as commendable behavior and what recognition implies, create an employee recognition program. 

If you go above and beyond simply praising employees and decide to provide them tangible rewards, such as a performance bonus or an extra day off, this must be mentioned in the recognition program or policy. Everyone must be aware of the incentives that are available and the requirements to qualify for them. Record the rationale for any rewards that an employee receives. 

Divide your attention equally among the team 

We’re all just human, so there will always be some folks we’re just more drawn to. But how we interact with others should be balanced in some way. 

Create a culture of open communication where all staff members are encouraged to come talk to you about issues or questions they may have and request face-to-face meeting with you. 

Prioritize skills and project requirements over everything while assigning employees to the project 

Create a list of each team member’s skills and shortcomings, and then correlate it with the project’s criteria and goals.  

Inquire about things like: 

Who will be in the greatest position to finish the necessary tasks and accomplish the intended goals? 

The person with the most pertinent experience? 

Does choosing an employee with a distinctive expertise have a special business case? 

Establish a setting where all workers have access to tools that will help them advance their careers. 

To learn what your employees require, interact with them on an individual basis. Leaders frequently make the mistake of spending less time conversing with those they don’t connect with.  

Is Unconscious Bias training the next big thing? 

While bias is incredibly difficult to eradicate on its own, it is much easier to interrupt. In the years we’ve spent studying and counselling others on how to create and manage diverse work groups, we’ve discovered tactics managers may use to combat bias without investing a lot of time—or political capital. 

People who receive effective Unconscious Bias (UB) training are given practical skills for altering their behavior. They have a greater understanding of other people’s perspectives and become more eager to be inclusive as a result. 

Videos portraying many typical office settings are included in Microsoft’s online UB training, which is also accessible to the general public. In one, the lone female team member attempts to share her opinions but is repeatedly cut off until someone notices and invites her to speak. 

Best practices for reducing bias are included in each portion of Microsoft’s training, such as “check your assumptions.” The next time you catch yourself passing judgement on someone’s background or preferred line of work, stop and consider whether it might actually be an asset. This is a straightforward technique for changing the way you think about someone or something. Employees are also taught during training how to avoid bias when selecting candidates for a position or allocating projects by outlining the job’s specifications in detail before considering applicants.

Next Steps after Unconscious Bias Training:  

Analyze the impact of UB training. This is crucial for enhancing the training gradually. First, data on participation in the training itself must be gathered. Microsoft conducts this through examining what motivates people, teams, and units to consume UB training materials, as well as by conducting participant surveys. Through employee pulse surveys, Starbucks evaluates employee engagement with antibias materials in a similar way. 

Secondly, the outcomes that organizations are attempting to alter must be tracked. Businesses such as Microsoft and Corning reveal demographic employment data in annual public reports to encourage improvements. In order to determine whether its efforts are enhancing customer experiences, Starbucks records customer interactions with staff members in various locations.  

Leaders can learn whether significant change is taking place by asking employees who are directly impacted by bias to discuss their experiences both before and after company-wide UB training. Surveys that are conducted before and a few months after the training are one approach to accomplish this. 

When you encounter unconscious bias, make sure that:  

  • Employees should feel empowered and comfortable enough to bring any kind of bias they’ve come across.  
  • Ensure that the bias is taken into account and is acted upon with an appropriate plan. 
  • Set up a standard procedure for functions such as hiring, meeting procedures, feedback mechanism etc which can help streamline and ultimately eliminate bias.  

Bottom-line: 

All businesses have an obligation to advance humankind. 

While it is impossible to permanently eradicate these ingrained tendencies, awareness campaigns and training activities as mentioned above can help to lessen unconscious bias in the workplace. 

By doing this, we may contribute to creating a business procedure and workplace that is more righteous and fair. Who knows where that might take the individual, the employer, or society at large? 

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    Meet the author

    Bhagyashree

    Content Writer

    Bhagyashree Shreenath is a full-time Content Writer at Keka Technologies. She is very passionate about writing and loves to write about the gaps in organization & human resource management strategies to handle the related concerns. When she isn’t writing, you will find her reading a book, or exploring new places.

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