How to Fight Unconscious Bias at Workplace

“When I look at a person, I see a person – not a rank, not a class, not a title.”

― Criss Jami, Killosophy

From preconceived notions that women cannot work at full capacity after having a child, to prejudices that engineers and all tech-related job roles need to be occupied by men, and believing that typically nurturing roles must be occupied by women; workplace bias is an unnecessary reality that has existed in organizations from times immemorial. While most employees would not claim to have these types of thoughts, there are many unconscious biases that are ingrained in us all. Biases are an integral part of human nature and in the workplace; there are two types of biases – conscious and unconscious. 

 Conscious biases are those biases that we are aware of, and can actively work towards overcoming, whereas unconscious biases are the social stereotypes one forms about a group of people based on previous interactions with a said group, or from random talk heard about them from other people. Influences that impact these unconscious biases include one’s upbringing, background, experiences and environmental conditions.

Some of the types of biases that one finds in the workplace include:

Affinity Bias Where one shows preference for people displaying the same characteristics as them.

Attribution Bias Where one refuses to understand the factors that people might experience, especially when they haven’t experienced the same.

Beauty Bias Where one bases their opinions based on looks.

Confirmation Bias Where one refuses to acknowledge factors that do not match the initial impressions of that person.

Conformity Bias Where one takes cues from others to voice their opinion, rather than exercise their own judgement.

Gender Bias Where one makes decisions based on the gender of the other person due to preconceived notions.

Halo and Horns Bias Halo bias is when one thinks very highly of another person and thus refuses to think negatively of them. Horns bias is the exact opposite.

 At the workplace, these biases can become toxic, leading to discrimination in both – acquiring new talent and performance at work. This could create a hostile work environment and would lead to lower productivity and employee morale. Some of the ways these biases can and must be weeded out from the workplace are:

Write gender-neutral job adverts and policies

The process of eliminating workplace biases needs to begin right from the start of the hiring process. One may not realize it (due to decades of unknown conditioning), but often when job roles are described, they hint at gender biases. One example of this is someone putting out a hiring notice for a ‘salesman’. It is important to double-check and make sure no bias is leaking through into the hiring advertisements or even in the company policies, SOPs, etc.

Focus on blind recruitment processes

One should remove elements from a candidate’s profile that can influence the hiring decision before they appear for the interview. These elements include name, age, location, name of alma matter and so on. The hiring process needs to depend solely on skillset required for the position and removal of these elements can help the interviewer make objective decisions based on assessment of relevant skills and experiences during the evaluation process. 

Widen work circle

The best way for a person to understand the value of a diverse workforce is by working with them and getting to know them individually. When people from different backgrounds work together their collective diverse experiences have the ability to bring new and innovative ideas to the table to produce better results. Experiencing this first-hand will help adoption of inclusion and diversity without bias in the workplace. 

Invest in elective training

While it is important to invest in diversity training, what makes it truly effective is when the training is conducted on voluntary basis. Regular training to combat unconscious bias can help address issues systematically and effectively and voluntary participation work because the participants of the training think themselves to be pro-diversity and actively champion the cause within the organisation to influence others to reduce the effects of unconscious bias.

Increase exposure to Biases

With training and seminars, many organizations believe that they are doing enough to curb this unpleasant reality, but often, subtle biases slip under the radar. It is important for the management to declare their intentions regarding the value of a diverse workforce at frequent intervals, as it sends a clear message about the organization’s intentions regarding this topic. This process can be carried out by flipping the conversation to include positive words and images about the people one might have stereotypical thoughts about and make use of non-biased language in all internal documents, job descriptions and other management practices. Reiterating these practices will bring clarity about the organization’s stance on workplace biases and reduce confusion that can create openings for biases to emerge.

Encourage others to speak up

The most important point of all, workplace bias would never have been realized and brought to attention if not for those who spoke up against it. It is crucial to maintain an open environment where people can bring up and address issues related to the bias they have noticed or experienced. This can help build a community of supporters that will strengthen relations between leaders of all genders and help create teams that are committed to speaking up, collaborating and effecting lasting change.

“Diversity is about headcount. Inclusion is about making those heads count.” 

 Britta Wilson, Pixar

Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable and address unconscious biases head-on. 

 “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– George Bernard Shaw