Unconscious bias

  • Discrimination
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Unconscious bias can have a major effect on your professional decisions and the future of your business. This guide looks at what it is and how you can stop it.

Even the most well-meaning of professionals can suffer from unintentional, but deeply engrained, affinity bias. And considering modern business life is about embracing equality and encouraging diversity, such a bias can cause problems for your business. To combat this ongoing problem, our guide explains what the phenomenon is and how you can go about stopping it.

The reasons for bias in the workplace

Back in 1998, the University of Washington and Yale, with a team of social psychologists leading its research, published the results of the Implicit Association Test (IAT). This, essentially, provided access into the world of professional subconscious and how deep-seated attitudes can fuel poor professional decisions. The reason is we can instinctively feel certain emotions towards others based on our backgrounds, personal experiences, the cultural context, and any pervading social stereotypes. Despite equality now facing close monitoring from strict laws in the UK, there are still occasions when unconscious prejudice can slip through. So, basically, the unconscious bias meaning is unintentionally implicit bias in the workplace.

The effects on your workplace

While it may seem like a non-issue for some, there are some major consequences of letting the problem continue unchecked. The reality is bias at work can have a big effect on some major business decisions. Here are some bias in the workplace examples:

  • Choosing the right staff member for a promotion.
  • Hiring a new starter for a role.
  • Making redundancies.
  • Choosing a client or business partner.

But you should also remember that there are different types of bias in the workplace and some can be subtle and difficult to spot. The reality is it’s possible to be subconsciously biased with regard to:

  • Age.
  • Social class.
  • Gender.
  • Race.
  • Background.

One of the big problems is it’s often a case of hidden bias in the workplace.

How do you stop implicit bias at work?

It’s a case of challenging your status quo and shaking up your business routine. You can follow the below five-step plan:

  1. Awareness: If you know it’s happening, then you can put a stop to it. The human brain has a habit of categorising so we know what to expect. If you can acknowledge this setback, then you’re taking the first step to addressing the problem.
  2. Question your procedures: Ask yourself—and others—whether your opinions are factually backed up and what the evidence is. If you’re openly looking for types of unconscious bias in the workplace, then you can identify them and look to remove the issues you find.
  3. Promote inclusivity: Be open and friendly with all your staff members. If, for example, you’re in a meeting you can encourage everyone there to provide their opinion.
  4. Be supportive: Use dialogue with staff carefully so you’re able to acknowledge other people’s feeling, avoid assumptions, find evidence, and move forward.
  5. Take action when necessary: When you identify workplace unconscious bias, take the appropriate steps to eliminate it. You should be encouraging inclusion in your working environment.

Generally, if you slow down your thinking and decision making processes you can embrace a more open and vibrant professional world.

Tackling more open biases

On a final note, conscious bias in the workplace is, of course, not legal. If you show prejudice in your working environment, then this can result in a discrimination claim. The government introduced the Equality Act 2010 in an attempt to curb prejudices. The law exists to help you, and your staff members, find a progressive balance to the way you approach daily work. And a good place to start is by ensuring there’s no unconscious bias in recruitment. Hiring strategies may appear airtight, but there’s still a strong possibility of unconscious gender bias. You can review your process and provide training to recruiters—and managers who take part in interviews—to ensure they’re aware of any unconscious biases. And from the recruitment phase going forward, you can instil a wider policy of blocking conscious, and unconscious, bias. This can be part of a progressive new outlook that factors in emotional intelligence and how you approach the thoughts and feelings of every professional within your organisation.

Looking for more help?

You can try out different tactics to limit or stop unconscious bias in workplace situations. And with 30 years’ experience helping SMEs with our business consultancy, we can help you embrace a diverse future. Call us today: 0800 028 2420.


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