How to Recognise And Eliminate Unconscious Bias In The Workplace

How to Recognise And Eliminate Unconscious Bias In The Workplace
If you think the senior executives at your organisation are free from unconscious bias, think again. At the workplace, business decisions and employee performance reviews are often clouded by bias. Employees use stereotypical beliefs when interacting with each other- while leaders are unconsciously partial towards their ‘favourite’ employees. If you want to know more about how to eliminate bias in your organisation, we have some tips.

Different types of unconscious bias in the workplace

We are all vulnerable to a number of different biases. We’ve listed some of the most common ones below:

Affinity bias

The tendency to like other people who are similar to us. This can have an impact on recruitment, especially when hiring managers select candidates based on personal preference, not culture fit and work credentials.

Halo effect

When one positive or negative characteristic influences your overall impression of a person. A classic example is that attractive people are often perceived to be more sociable and successful. This can influence hiring decisions and progression within the company.

Perception bias

The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that make it extremely difficult to make an objective judgement about individual members of those groups.

Confirmation bias

The tendency for someone to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. In the process they often overlook information that does not support their initial impression.

Group think

Out of a desire to fit into a particular group, individuals will suppress their own opinions to avoid upsetting the perceived group consensus. Some people can lose part of their identities as a result, which leads to less creativity and innovation across the organisation.

Organisations around the world are taking notice

The National Bureau of Economic Research in USA conducted a field experiment on labour market discrimination, and the results are startling. It discovered that “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.” Alarmed with this finding, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron declared that UK’s university admissions service will conduct “name-blind” applications from 2017. Organisations like the civil service, BBC, NHS, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money followed suit. The point being made is clear: successful organisations acknowledge the existence of unconscious bias in making decisions, and want to do something about it. The Psychology of Employee Engagement eBook. Free download.

Why bias in bad for business

Curbs diversity: As can be easily deduced from how unconscious bias works, it results in people from similar backgrounds and identities eventually sidelining anyone who’s different. This could be disastrous for business, as the team has limited skill and cultural diversity– which will eventually affect overall productivity. Obscures flaws: Bias could affect the way we review the performance of employees. For example, it would lead to certain employees to be evaluated more favourably than others. As the said employee’s flaws thus remain hidden, it becomes difficult to work on improving performance and developing better skills.

How to eliminate bias in your workplace

1.Identify the bias hotspots

Firstly, have a look at all the processes and procedures that occur in your organisation. From making hiring decisions to analysing employee performances, identify the processes which rely highly on human interaction and judgment. It’s likely that these are the most bias-ridden. Additionally, you can survey employees to examine employee opinions about how inclusive they feel the workplace is.

2.Talk about the problem

Due to the nature of human psychology, it’s almost inevitable to have some form of unconscious bias at play in the office. However, it’s important to acknowledge that this problem exists, as trying to cover up the presence of bias can be highly counterproductive. Engage senior executives and managers in discussing the impact of bias, and together develop new practices and tips to increase impartiality. Azmat Mohammed, director general of the Institute of Recruiters said, “the reality is that people carrying out interviews, at the next stage on from applications, are humans. The thing is for them to be able to analyse their own biases. Everybody has them and businesses are working to address this issue.”

3. Involve everyone in designing a solution

Once the main bias-prone processes have been identified, engage all relevant team members to design a solution. Decide what the best way forward would be, to reduce partiality and boost fairness. For example, Deloitte has introduced a new graduate selection method in order to reduce “unconscious bias.” Recruiters at Deloitte will now not know where candidates went to school or university. Depending on your organisation’s functioning, develop innovative solutions to tackle bias.

4. Increase awareness

Prevention is always more convenient than cure, so invest resources in increasing your team’s awareness about how bias affects the organisation. Encourage better communication and relationship-building between employees of various backgrounds, to lessen pre-determined notions. Additionally, those in charge of evaluating employee performances should acknowledge the possibility of their decisions being influenced by unconscious bias, and should consciously work to avoid it.

5. Review the results

Once you’ve adopted strategies to eliminate bias at the workplace, review how effective these have been. The best way to do this would be to use data from employee opinions, experiences and feedback, which can provide a much more objective outlook about how effective the anti-bias measures have been.

Key takeaway

Unconscious bias in the workplace can affect skill diversity and impact overall productivity. Acknowledge and identify where bias exists in your organisation. Use data from employee opinions and involve team members to design solutions to improve fairness.