Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Written by
Ashley Gillis

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At Insource, we are energized by continual learning. Our staff recently participated in an awareness session on Unconscious Bias. Below we share some of our thoughts and insights on how unconscious bias impacts the workplace and ideas for you to think about as we all strive to have more diverse and inclusive workforces.

So what is unconscious bias? Unconscious bias is a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. Many ideas that are deeply held in our unconscious can unintentionally influence how we act toward one another and lead to a lack of inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

During our awareness training, our team was asked to share an example of a time in our lives when someone made an assumption about us that was wrong. As our coworkers shared personal stories we realized that all of us had been on both the giving and receiving end of incorrect (unfair, inaccurate) judgements made due to unconscious bias. While unconscious bias in the workplace can develop for many reasons some examples uncovered included:

  • Gravitating towards a candidate or co-worker because you come from similar backgrounds
  • Hiring a new employee because they remind you of yourself and not paying as much attention skills and competency as you might with another candidate
  • Making an assumption about an employee’s technical savviness based on their age or gender

One statistic that resonated with our staff is that men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will apply only if they meet 85-90% of them. The key takeaway was that  how we write a job ad matters. If we include requirements that would be “good to have” vs. essential, we may be inadvertently excluding a whole pool of candidates. Further, there is such a thing as “male” and “female” language tendencies that attract gender specific candidates that should be examined in job descriptions.

As organizations look for ways to build awareness around and minimize the effect of unconscious bias in our companies, many find themselves faced with the same question: what are the ways unconscious bias influence our organization? While it seems impossible to eliminate all of our natural biases, there are things we can do to mitigate the impact they have on our organization:

  • Review and update recruiting processes and eliminate areas where unconscious bias can affect decision making. Rewording job descriptions to be broader to attract a wider range of candidates. Eliminating names and addresses on resumes has also proven useful in expanding the diversity of the applicant pool and ultimately who is hired.
  • Survey current employees to learn about their biases and offer tailored awareness training
  • Survey exiting employees to learn what, if any, issues they faced during their employment and what changes they would like to see to make your workplace more supportive of all employees.
  • Implement policies and procedures, such as conducting an organizational diversity audit or utilizing standardized interview questions, in order to minimize bias
  • Encourage employees from different departments and backgrounds to interact on a regular basis

We encourage employees to become aware of the impact that their own unconscious bias has on their decision making. Providing employees with various forms of education and training helps staff become aware of their own biases and develop and build skills to help overcome them.

The impact of unconscious biases is widespread and can ultimately undermine diversity efforts, recruiting and retention programs. By providing awareness training and putting processes in place that identify unconscious biases, organizations can make positive steps to help minimize the negative impact it has on your organization and benefit from the richness that comes from a variety of perspectives in decision- making.

For more information on this topic or to speak to one of our HR consultants, please contact us at 781-235-1490.