An unconscious bias is a deep-seated prejudice — that we don’t know we have — that can affect how we treat other people. These biases affect how we behave and the decisions we make. We use them automatically, unintentionally and… unconsciously.
A bias can be positive; it can be negative. We all have unconscious biases.
Our eyes, skin, ears, nose and tongue send around 11,000,000 bits of information to our brain every second. Over 90% of that data comes from your eyes. Our brain can consciously manage less than 50 of those bits of information in a second which leaves our unconscious brain to deal with the rest. Fortunately, that can process around a hundred billion operations per second. To do that, it has to take shortcuts — like recognising patterns and making generalisations based on similar data from past experiences.
Hence our brain’s imperative to build implicit biases and stereotypes. In our early history, this mechanism made it possible to avoid being a predator’s lunch!
In a contemporary environment, understanding that we have implicit biases, identifying them if we can and challenging them is reduces the risk of discriminatory behaviour.
We tend to define ourselves in terms of our social group. Our unconscious biases are quick to sort people into the group they belong to and the ‘others’. Problems arise if those biases then lead us to discriminate against people in the ‘other’ groups. As high-profile cases of discrimination have proved, multinational organisations have faced heavy fines and public disapproval when someone in their workforce acts in a discriminatory way.
This not only damages the organisational reputation it can also lead to fines and other legal penalties. On an individual basis it can lead to lost sales, poor customer service and – ultimately – dismissal.
Academics from a variety of universities including Columbia, Rice and Montana published a couple of papers on the impact of bias on gender at work.
A computer simulation was developed on the basis of their research. It tracks what happens in a company with 8 seniority levels if promotion is based on performance scores which are biased (1, 5 and 10%) towards a particular group.
The simulation starts with a 1:1 gender ratio at each level. Performance-review scores are randomly generated for employees at every level. As you can see the cumulative impact of a tiny bias is enormous.
You’ve seen how tiny amounts of bias (such as confirmation bias) impact on performance management and promotion.
We also see it in recruitment – even when a person’s name is the only factor involved. Are scientists biased?
And we see it everywhere in the daily interactions with other members of our team.
A professor of law at UC Hastings published the idea of bias interrupters.
Organisational bias interrupters include systems and processes that aim to build bias out of activities and decisions such as recruitment.
Individuals can interrupt bias by learning to be aware of bias, challenge their assumptions and act on evidence. That takes conscious effort supported by a culture that challenges bias and promotes personal accountability.
Training individuals about unconscious bias, its impact and how to counteract it is the cornerstone of making this happen.
We carefully chose to look at behaviours you can measure – like following bias free recruitment and promotion procedures. As well as behaviours you can’t like maintaining the same levels of eye contact and personalised service with every customer.
We varied the types of interactivity we used and harnessed them to keep people engaged and get them thinking and challenging themselves. The great thing about eLearning is that this challenge can happen in a safe space – which can help people be more honest with themselves.
We made it relatable with a video narrator who talks rather than teaches. We used scenarios familiar to everyone to recreate a variety of situations showing bias in action, its impact and how to counteract it.
As with all of our courses, our in-course editor makes it a snap to add your own links, processes, guidelines and branding, tailoring the training to your cultural needs. And, if you need more, we can have an experienced customisation unit.