A trending and hot topic in the world of Diversity & Inclusion, D&I as its affectionately called, is unconscious bias. Research on unconscious bias is a recent and emerging field of social psychology, cognitive sciences and neurosciences. Just in the last few years, this topic has appeared on the radar of many corporations, including Google, Facebook, Broadcom, Genentech, and Pfizer, which have all invested in unconscious bias training for their employees.
Let’s define bias. Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against a person, thing or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Common types of biases in the workplace include gender, race, ethnicity, age, height, weight, religion, culture, sexual orientation, personality type, disability, pregnancy/children, socio-economic status, and even introverts.
You may have heard the terms conscious and unconscious bias. Conscious bias, also referred to as explicit or overt bias, is an outward expression of our biases that we are aware of. We don’t see as much of this type of bias in the workplace as we did 20 or 30 years ago, such as blatant racism or sexism comments and behaviors. Unconscious bias, also referred to as implicit or hidden bias, is an unintended, subtle and completely unconscious expression of our biases which are unaddressed. It often comes in the form of almost imperceptible differences in opportunity. For example, an introduction not made, key information not shared, or an event invitation not given. If you are on the receiving end, these subtleties can have a tremendous impact on your ability to network with key stakeholders, acquire more customers, keep current on market opportunities, and succeed in your job.
The problem with unconscious bias in today’s workplace is that it affects how welcoming and open a workplace is to different people and ideas, and affects how we interpret information and make a whole host of decisions—including recruiting and hiring, promotion and succession planning, performance evaluations and compensation, team and project assignments, budget decisions, client or customer service, and openness to new sources of ideas and innovation. Given that our world, and thus our workplaces, are becoming more diverse every day, unconscious bias stands as one of the biggest threats to a company’s ability to compete successfully.
STRATEGIES TO MINIMIZE BIAS
As a training professional, there are many organizational and individual strategies to help you minimize bias and create an environment where others can fully contribute. From an organizational standpoint, you can initiate training programs that create awareness of hidden biases, and that help employees improve individual decisions. You can also collaborate with your leadership teams and human resources to implement programs and policies to take bias out of organizational processes. For instance, use joint and structured interviewing to ensure that you make decisions collectively. Create objective standards for evaluating performance and assigning new opportunities. Or, measure and collect diversity data at both the individual and group level.
Individually, when it comes to bias, it’s important to be honest with yourself about blind spots. Do you hold any biases that are inconsistent with your personal values? Question your first impression about others and take a minute to allow your unconscious thoughts to become conscious. Be aware of the words and physical reactions that surface in your daily interactions. Finally, make a conscious effort to seek and learn from others different from you—and you’ll likely need to disrupt your normal process to do this. There may be someone down the hall from you that you’ve never spoken with that has the answer to your problem. The knowledge and insight you’ll gain from others, and about others, will be well worth the extra effort.