Unconscious bias training is in demand as social protests against racism and calls for systematic changes continue across the US and around the world. As part of a long-term commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), training is one of the proactive steps that organizations can take to raise awareness and reduce unconscious bias in the workplace.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, occurs when individuals make judgments — whether they realize it or not — about people based on stereotypes or preconceived opinions. Favorable or unfavorable, these social stereotypes and associations stem from the brain’s tendency to group things together to help make sense of a complicated world.
Even though people aren’t usually aware of their biases, they can exert a strong influence on workplace decisions and culture. For example, preferring job candidates with White-sounding names over those with Black-sound names, without consciously thinking about it, or associating men with having better math and science skills than women.
Unconscious bias goes beyond race and gender. It can be based on many factors, including age, abilities, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity. Research shows that people are more susceptible to the influences of unconscious biases in certain situations, such as when they are rushed to make a decision or looking at a large stack of job applicants.
While everyone has unconscious biases, they need to be managed and minimized in the workplace to reduce the risk of influencing hiring and recruiting decisions, performance reviews, promotions and disciplinary actions, and undermining efforts to create a respectful, inclusive culture.
Here are 10 ways to reduce unconscious or implicit bias in the workplace:
- Conduct regular training to motivate employees to be aware of their own unconscious biases, why they occur, and how to make more consciously inclusive decisions.
- Train HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers to avoid mental shortcuts and be on the alert for biases at every step of the employment process.
- Seek multiple viewpoints beyond the usual ‘inside’ group, when making employment and other business decisions.
- Research, report and analyze hiring, promotion and retention data.
- Recruit job candidates from a wide variety of sources.
- Promote inclusive-thinking and interaction between different departments and positions within the organization.
- Train managers to take time to analyze situations before making decisions, rather than relying on information that may be based on stereotypes.
- Implement a process for individuals to anonymously report incidents of bias and offer feedback and suggestions.
- Cross-train employees and implement mentoring programs to drive inclusion.
- Train employees on bystander intervention and the benefits of being an ally to marginalized or underrepresented groups.
While unconscious bias can’t be eliminated, measures can be taken so it doesn’t lead to unfair or discriminatory attitudes and actions. As one step in the ongoing process to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, unconscious bias training can help employees be aware of and manage their personal biases, and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to create a sense of belonging in the workplace.