Unconscious bias affects inclusion as it is often defined as stereotypes, prejudices or deeply held beliefs which lead us to favour one thing, person, or group over another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Everyone’s unconscious bias is different according to the unique social factors which influenced them and formed the individual they are.
Unlike discrimination unconscious bias is what it says it is; unconscious. So there is no malicious intent – we are often unaware that we have done it, and of its impact and implications. We are not making conscious decisions which are well thought through, taking all factors into account. Our brains need to work quickly so they access information which is known and familiar to us first. This information is based on our personal experiences meaning there is a natural bias towards views and opinions which fit with the world view we are most familiar and comfortable with.
As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalised.
Types of unconscious bias
There are different types of unconscious bias examples. Understanding them can help to appreciate how unconscious bias impacts on us all.
Affinity bias – we are more likely to favour people who are like us
Consider the people you spend time with. Are they mostly the same ethnicity as you? Same age? Gender? Come from similar backgrounds? We are naturally drawn to people who we see as similar to ourselves. If we consider this in the workplace this can be damaging. Imagine a white, middle class male manager recruiting for new staff. The CVs he receives come from many different people. Affinity bias may draw him unwittingly towards those with anglo saxon names. These are familiar and comfortable to him. He may shortlist individuals similar to himself and reject others based on nothing more than affinity bias.
Halo effect – the tendency to believe that a person is capable and skilled simply because you like them
Let’s consider the same scenario again. This time the manager notices that some of the applicants have similar hobbies to him. They enjoy golf and play polo. The manager loves golf and polo and regardless of the fact this has little bearing on the role he is recruiting for, he likes this individual so decides he must be capable and skilled and decides to shortlist him.
Perception bias – believing something about an entire group of people based on stereotypes and assumptions
A great example of this, which also highlights how unconscious bias can come into play in a whole host of different ways, is how google reacted when youtube launched their video upload feature. They were confused by 5-10% of the videos being uploaded upside down. Why would so many people be shooting their videos incorrectly? The answer was simple and highlighted the designers assumptions. Some people were filming videos with their left hands. As the individuals who designed the feature were right handed they made an assumption that everyone is right handed and their way was ‘correct’. They did not consider that left handed users would rotate the screen causing it to appear upside down. This is perception bias.
Confirmation bias – finding reasons and ways to confirm stereotypes and assumptions about a group of people
Let’s talk about women vs men. Some women have babies. Some women are mostly responsible for looking after these babies. Does this makes them unreliable and less productive than men in the workplace? Confirmation bias who lead you to think yes it does regardless of the trues facts of the situation. It’s entirely possible for a man to have the same childcare responsibilities and demands as a woman. Confirmation bias stops us looking past the traditional prejudices against women and looking at the bigger picture.
Group think – trying too hard to fit into a group or culture
Have you ever agreed with the thoughts and opinions of others without truly sharing them yourself? Perhaps in a work meeting when everyone is agreeing on a point but you can see a way it could be considered differently but don’t wish to rock the boat? This is group think.
Why is understanding unconscious bias important?
In some ways unconscious bias can be harmless with no lasting negative impact but it can also be enormously damaging, especially unconscious bias in the workplace. 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.
Engage in Learning provide online unconscious bias training courses will help you recognise bias, avoid discrimination and support a culture of diversity in the workplace.
- Unconscious Bias for Managers addresses the way implicit bias can affect issues like recruitment, performance management, promotion and team dynamics.
- Unconscious Bias focuses on the impact on customer service interactions with particular focus on the micro-behaviours that aren’t necessarily under our conscious control.
The aim of both courses is to help learners recognise when they might be acting or behaving on the basis of unconscious bias, provide them with ways to challenge those biases and counteract them.
Both courses use thought-provoking and challenging activities to highlight the impact of bias; a range of video scenarios to bring the material to life and help learners relate it to their own workplace; and clear explanations and practical techniques to help learners identify, challenge and counteract their own biases.