Managing unconscious bias — also called implicit bias — is one of this year’s top HR issues. In a recent column in HR Specialist, Andrew Rawson, Traliant’s Chief Learning Officer and Co-Founder, offers insights into what unconscious bias is and how to prevent it from becoming a barrier to change and improving diversity and inclusion. Here’s an excerpt:
What is unconscious bias?
While the concept of unconscious bias isn’t new, its impact on workplace culture is in the spotlight as HR leaders focus on initiatives to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Unconscious bias training is one of the proactive ways HR can raise awareness of the issue and help to minimize its influence on behaviors, policies and processes.
Judgments based on stereotypes
Everyone has unconscious bias, also known as implicit or hidden bias. It’s the way the human brain groups things together to help make sense of a complicated world. Whether realized or not, individuals are expressing bias when they make judgments — either favorable or unfavorable — about people based on stereotypes or preconceived opinions. Unconscious bias goes beyond gender and race and can be based on many factors, including age, abilities, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
Avoiding mental shortcuts
Research shows that people are more likely to be influenced by unconscious biases when they are rushed or under stress to make a decision, such as looking at a large stack of job applications. Slowing down and broadening the decision-making process can help check unconscious blind spots. For example, get a variety of viewpoints during performance reviews or when making hiring and other business decisions. Also, document your hiring, salary, promotions and retention data; it can help you track progress and identify gaps.
Train employees on bystander intervention
Bystander intervention training is another way to manage unconscious bias and reduce microaggressions (slights, insults and put-downs against people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, or others from marginalized or underrepresented groups). Training employees on different intervention techniques and the benefits of being an ally can help remove the uncertainty of when or how to intervene and show support. What matters is saying or doing something.
Engage at every level
While unconscious bias can’t be eliminated completely, there are ways to manage and minimize it so it doesn’t lead to unfair or discriminatory decisions, such as who gets hired or whose idea is chosen for a project. As part of a multipronged strategy around DEI, engaging all employees (including senior management) in ongoing unconscious bias training and education helps create more respectful, equitable and inclusive workplaces.
Unconscious bias training is one of the cornerstones of educating employees and managers on DEI issues. Effective training should focus on raising awareness of what hidden biases are, how these stereotypes and blind spots affect business decisions, and what individuals can do to counteract them through inclusive thinking and actions.