How to Prevent Unconscious Bias in Your Workplace and Drive Results
Holly DePalma |
It’s no secret that cultural and generational shifts have changed the workplace landscape. And like most workforce leaders, you’ve responded accordingly. You champion diversity and inclusion. You promote a safe and healthy environment. Yet, an imminent threat to your efforts still exists: unconscious bias. Understanding and addressing the challenge of unconscious bias in the modern workplace is critical to your organization’s health and bottom line.
What is unconscious bias?
The first step in combatting unconscious bias in workplace is to understand what is means and how it impacts our behavior. Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, can be explained as the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that we unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how we understand and engage with a person or group.
Yes, we all have it.
I know what you’re thinking: I don’t have any biases. I don’t buy into stereotypes. It’s common to assume you’re mindful, objective, and acutely aware of how you assess others.
However, science proves otherwise. The reality is our brains are hardwired to make decisions about others based on what feels safe, relatable, and valuable to us. Unconscious processing drives the majority of important decisions we make.
In fact, researchers have identified 150 types of unconscious bias that impact our daily lives, especially in the workplace.
Unconscious bias and the hiring process
Still not convinced unconscious bias influences your workplace decisions and behavior? Our biases often infiltrate the hiring process and result in costly missteps. Let’s examine five common types of unconscious bias that might resonate with you and your hiring managers.
- Affinity bias – commonly known as similarity bias, this is the tendency to connect with people who are like us. We naturally gravitate toward others who share the same experiences, background, and interests. For example, one of your hiring managers might lean toward a candidate who graduated from the same college or hails from the same hometown.
- Confirmation bias – this speaks to our inclination to draw conclusions about a person or situation based on personal beliefs and prejudices. An example could be assuming a female candidate with small children will be more likely to frequently call out sick or leave work early. Or maybe you expect a candidate with an international name to have certain language proficiencies or deficits.
- Halo effect & Horn effect – these terms underscore our tendency to allow a specific trait to positively or negatively influence our evaluation of a person or group. For example, maybe your hiring team believes a candidate will make a strong leader because he is big in stature or charismatic in presentation. Conversely, maybe they dismiss a candidate’s standing because he/she attended a less-known college or previously worked for one of your company’s competitors.
- Gender bias – the tendency to prefer one gender over another. In the hiring of leadership roles, this type of bias unsurprisingly favors males. In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), males account for 70% of manager and senior executive roles in the private sector.
- Groupthink or Conformity bias – this could best be described as the workplace version of peer pressure. When a hiring team convenes to discuss candidates, individuals often stifle their personal opinions if it deviates from majority thought. This tendency can cause groups to overlook key observations and make poor hiring decisions.
The cost of unconscious bias
Addressing unconscious bias is more than just a good-faith initiative or box-checking exercise. Failure to proactively minimize unconscious bias from your business and talent practices will cost you. Literally. In fact, key findings from a study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation shows the marked impact it has on workplace engagement, productivity, and retention. Employees who perceive unconscious bias at work are:
- More than 3 times as likely to leave their current jobs within the year
- Nearly 3 times more likely to refrain from sharing ideas and creative solutions
- 3 times as likely to be disengaged at work (disengagement costs U.S. companies up to $500 billion a year)
With so much at stake, you can’t afford to ignore the power—and business implications—of unconscious bias in your organization. It’s time to take action.
The first step in diminishing unconscious bias is knowing your baseline. Sure, measuring bias comes with its inherent challenges, but there are diagnostic tools available to get you started. You can also develop an internal survey to capture behavioral data and gain insights about:
- the level of perceived bias in the organization
- the types of unconscious bias are most common in your employee population
You can use the results to design and implement an appropriate action plan.
Next, it’s crucial to focus on your talent lifecycle starting with hiring practices. As a business leader, the best course of action is to rely on a data-driven tool to identify talent gaps, assess candidates, and build high-performing teams. By using a scientifically validated system and relying on statistical analysis, unconscious bias is eliminated from the process altogether. The result? Your organization and its bottom line will reap the benefits of having diverse, cohesive, and engaged teams.
Minimizing unconscious bias in the workplace can certainly feel like an uphill battle. But with expert guidance it doesn’t have to be. Contact us today for tailored support in eliminating unconscious bias from your organization.