How do you battle unconscious bias in your workplace?
Unconscious bias has gone from a groundbreaking idea to an employment buzzword. To really tackle unconscious bias in the workplace, we need to return to the core ideas and actively fight our biases.
In my mind, unconscious bias has become an excuse. Something to blame when we don’t actively change our ways and challenge our own thinking.
But this is lazy. Knowing about unconscious bias gives us a great opportunity to learn and grow. So let’s return to the basics first.
What is unconscious bias?
Bias can go both ways. You can be prejudiced for or against a certain person.
Some people actively choose to be biased towards a certain person. Say if they believe that only women can be successful in marketing. This is a conscious, chosen (and outright wrong) bias.
Unconscious bias is when you don’t even know that you are prejudiced for or against someone. For example you could unconsciously judge someone’s communication and language skills based on their foreign-sounding name.
But we already know this, right?
Unconscious bias usually goes unaddressed and ignored. But the conversation around it was heating up a few years ago. TED talks were put out left and right, everyone was writing about it. It was a hot topic – and arguably still is.
So what’s happened? If you’re in business you’ve undoubtedly heard about unconscious bias, maybe had a conversation or two… but have you done anything more than that?
We’ve been told that having unconscious bias is natural – everyone has it! But then where does that leave us?
If it’s innate, then in some ways it can be justified. That doesn’t sit well with me.
We can’t use the science behind unconscious bias – that it’s all down to a reaction in your brain – to excuse it. We should already be actively fighting against it.
What to do about it
So unconscious bias is affecting you and your workplace. It’s influencing the way you speak, behave, hire, manage and discipline your staff.
The first way I would recommend tackling this is by going for your hiring first. Next time you advertise a role in your company, picture the person you’re going to hire. Really picture them.
Now were they a man? White? Analyse your expectation and then work on subverting it by:
- Focusing on the language you use in your job advert. Consider making it gender neutral and bringing attention to your inclusion policy.
- Running a blind hiring process. We’ve covered bling recruitment before, and even though it might be a bit of a change for you, the results should be worth it! Blind hiring is great because you’re forced to forget personal information and focus on skill.
- Having a recruitment partner. Someone else that you trust in your organisation could be your ticket to fighting bias. Analyse their opinions of candidates and encourage them to do the same with yours.
- Forget company culture and run a recruitment programme that values practical skills tests above all else.
When you hire diverse people – people that might not be your most comfortable choice – you’re forced to confront your own bias.
Hopefully your new hire will be so effective in their role that your brain is forced to reconsider its assumptions. Now the next time that you hire someone into a similar role – or maybe into your company altogether – your image of an ideal candidate will be a lot wider.
The best way to tackle unconscious bias is to challenge it into becoming conscious. So analyse your behaviour and the behaviour of the people around you!
- Looking at what you expect from your coworkers. Do your female colleagues do a lot more admin even if it isn’t one of their responsibilities? And do your male coworkers do none? That’s a big red flag.
- Watch the language that your team is using. Be sure to pull up all of your coworkers on their mistakes and encourage them to do the same for you.
- Constantly be trying to improve. I’m a firm believer in leading by example, so take some training, admit your mistakes and try to do better! If this means revisiting your diversity policy or sitting down with your team and asking them how you can be better, then please do it.
- Be relentless. If unconscious bias is innate, then we all need to make a habit of challenging our own thinking.
Learning about unconscious bias is not enough. The explanation can quickly become the excuse. Don’t let unconscious bias run rampant in your workplace, take control!