Unconscious bias occurs when we need to make decisions and judgements quickly. We draw on our personal experiences. This means there is a natural bias towards views and opinions which fit with the world view we are most familiar and comfortable with. By doing this unconsciously, there is no malicious intent, we are often unaware that we have done it, and of its impact and implications. This can result in whole groups of people being disregarded due to learnt stereotypes and deeply ingrained beliefs impacting on decisions and actions you make, without you realising, and this is the definition of unconscious bias.
Is Unconscious Bias ever harmless?
In some ways, unconscious bias can be harmless with no lasting negative impact but it can also be enormously damaging, especially in the workplace. But there are ways to avoid it.
The first thing that needs to happen to overcome unconscious bias is to understand it. We are all guilty of it and this is because for the most part, as mentioned above, people are unaware they are even doing it.
Once there is an awareness of it we can begin to appreciate how it can impact negatively on us and others and manage how it influences us.
Stop and think about your decisions
Why have you made the decision you made? What is the bigger picture? Have you made a choice based on facts or subjective thinking? Take time to consider your thinking and question how you came to your conclusion.
Create inclusive environments
Are your working environments accessible to all staff? Do you greet everyone in the same way? If not consider the reasons why you might treat them differently. Do you always sit next to the same person? Consider why and what you could gain by sitting next to someone else.
If you are a Manager, you have a responsibility to lead by example. Do you ensure that everyone’s voice is heard? If you draw upon the opinion of the same people repeatedly, stop and consider why you do this. We can all become locked in patterns of behaviour which aren’t necessarily conducive to the best results. Explore different ways of communicating and drawing everyone into discussions and decision making.
Foster a supportive environment
It is very easy for information and understanding to be lost in translation due to poor communication. The use of supportive language this can help to avoid this.
Try and consider the feelings of the person you are speaking with and acknowledge their point of view (even if you don’t agree with it).
Be clear in your words and ask for clarity from others
If you are not clear on what is being communicated by others, explore the topic further. Ask them to help you understand what is being said. Work together to solve problems and ask for input on how others would address a situation.
Consider your actions
An easy exercise you can do to highlight this is to consider how you behave in a group of strangers. When given the choice of where and by whom to sit and engage with, who do you pick? Chances are individuals you choose are similar in ethnicity, gender, age to you. Challenge this instinct and take yourself out of your comfort zone.
Unconscious bias, if left unchecked can result in decisions being made without considering bigger pictures, the requirements of a role and the true facts of the situation. Unconscious bias holds on to stereotypes and will disregard anyone who fits into these groups to the detriment of all.
It is therefore vital that training is undertaken to understand it fully and avoid unconscious bias in the workplace.