What Is Unconscious Bias

This week our topic is unconscious bias. For the past five years we have been delivering training on this topic, but since the start of 2014 we have been inundated with enquiries from a whole array of organisations for training, workshops, presentations and e-learning on unconscious bias. If you would like more information on our training options, click here.

However, at the same time we are aware that lots of HR and training professionals don’t feel as confident as they should on what unconscious bias is about. In fact many are so hectic in their roles, they have not even begun to learn about this at all. This HR Blast is for you.

So… what exactly is unconscious bias? Clearly it is bias that is unconscious! Although just to confuse matters it could be that whilst a bias is unconscious for one person it is actually a conscious bias for another!

Consider a woman who just tends to recruit other women into the team: does she do this as she knowingly favours women when offering jobs? Or because for some reason she always feels she has a better interview with women and therefore, more often than not, she reaches the conclusion than the woman is the better fit.

We all have biases. Unconscious bias training is about helping us to better understand the biases that we may not even be aware of, but that can impact our decision making, thinking and behaviour in the workplace.

Here are just a few examples of how unconscious bias can impact in the workplace:

  • Why do we deliver fantastic customer service to one customer whilst doing the bare minimum for another and what impact on sales can this have?
  • Why do the same old faces always appear to be in the mind of the senior managers when promotions are being talked about and can this result in the best talent not always achieving the top jobs?
  • Why are we inclined to judge or criticise more harshly the under performance of one person compared to the under performance of another, and what impact can this have both on the motivation of individuals and the respect of staff for the leaders of the organisation?

And here are just a few of the biases that staff and managers can have:

Preference towards:

  • Those from the same school, university or town of birth
  • Those of the same sex, religion, nationality
  • Those who look/dress just like us
  • Those who sound just like us
  • Those who appear physically fit and well groomed
  • Those who have the same hobbies and interests as us

Bias against:

  • Those who look or sound different to us
  • Those we struggle to relate to as there are no mutual interests or hobbies
  • Those with different values or attitudes
  • Those who appear weak or unhealthy
  • Those who have very different backgrounds to us

Why do organisations want to learn about unconscious bias?

Although individual unconscious bias behaviours are often subtle, persistent bias can be very destructive within an organisation, destroying relationships, creating friction and disharmony and resulting in less effective teams.

Ultimately this results in a lowering of profit and deterioration in organisational success.

Our biases might also increase the risk to the business in respect of increased costs as a result of poor decision making, poor staff management or employee claims.

In contrast, our unconscious preferences can positively impact individuals. This can result in decisions being made that do not necessarily result in the best outcome for the organisation.

What are the business benefits in training staff in unconscious bias?

Financial

  • Achieve competitive advantage when it is clear that the absence of certain groups of people, or the dominance of one group, is impacting growth and/or profitability.
  • Identify how to better retain certain groups of people who don’t appear to stay as long with you as others might.

Risk management

  • Ensure fair and appropriate decision making on salaries, promotions, selection for development etc.
  • Identify individuals that would benefit from one to one coaching in order to help them better understand how to control their biases in line with organisational expectations of behaviour.
  • Address imbalance issues (perhaps where just one group of similar people dominate in a team) in order to understand both how to change this and avoid imbalance in the future.

Best practice

  • Identify how to attract talent, or conversely identify what is currently preventing you from attracting talent from a wider recruitment pool.
  • Improve engagement and motivation in selected teams that are not as engaged or as motivated as you would expect.
  • Responding to issues raised in exit interviews in order to continually raise levels of management skill and the engagement and motivation of staff.

Can we ever train bias ‘out of’ people? Would we ever want to train bias out of people?

No and no!

It is unrealistic to expect anyone to succeed in training bias ‘out of’ people. However, what we can do is raise awareness of individuals’ biases and encourage them to operate in the work place in such a way that is not influenced by their personal biases.

Clearly, if they are demonstrating a bias that is currently prohibited by legislation (e.g. age discrimination), then we should be setting clear guidelines and be doing more than just gently encouraging them to ensure their biases do not impact on their behaviour.

We also would not want to train bias out of people as it is the very individuality of people that adds flavour and interest to the workplace and a workplace full of automatons with no personal opinions, individual experiences, values or beliefs would be a very boring place indeed.

Conclusion

There is a lot of talk currently around unconscious bias. Those who are interested are those who want to take diversity and inclusion training to the next level. They want to go further than is required by existing legislation in order to both reduce risk, but more critically, to achieve optimal performance.

Our Unconscious Bias Solutions 

Interested in planning some training in this area?

Jaluch is able to offer a whole host of solutions around unconscious bias and always happy to talk ideas through, contact us for more information.

  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Half day training sessions
  • E-learning materials
  • Pre prepared materials for you to deliver your own training in house
  • Train the trainer
  • Staff surveys to assess employee engagement and motivation
  • One to one coaching

We recommend some initial sessions on this topic to raise awareness and increase knowledge in this area followed by some six monthly or annual reminder sessions (perhaps you run lunch and learn sessions?) to ensure the topic of unconscious bias continues to be in people’s minds.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individuals matters.

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