Why we should be conscious of unconscious bias

Why we should be conscious of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias. Like the air we breathe, it’s absorbed into our lives and workplaces every day. And it can be equally hard to see. It unknowingly permeates our political and social views, business culture, hiring processes and even our approach to innovation.

Thanks to the highly publicised #Metoo and Time’s Up movements, employers are under increased pressure to remove unconscious bias from their workplace. Some big brands, like Diageo, are even going so far as to investigate the internal diversity strategies of the agencies they work with – from their culture through to the creative campaigns that they produce.

So, it’s time to start taking this seriously. But how do you stamp out what you cannot see?

A closer look at unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is any form of discrimination that occurs without you noticing. In many ways, it’s outside of our control – shaped over a lifetime by our family, friends, living and working environments, culture and experiences. Then there’s the subliminal (yet screaming) images, messages and information that the media accosts us with every minute of every day.

Many of us aren’t aware of it. We think our beliefs are authentic and pure; that we’re passionately against prejudice and for diversity. But this thinking is all on a conscious level – we forget about our sneaky subconscious.

What does it look like in the workplace?

Unconscious bias can live in any part of the workplace; from recruitment and employee promotion to employee diversity and management.

Even the most (consciously) shocking examples – like a hiring manager judging a candidate by the photo on their CV – happen on a regular basis. Often, interviewers subconsciously favour candidates because they have similar traits and beliefs to them. They might think they’re being fair and neutral, but the final decision is shaped on a dark, deep-rooted bias that they didn’t even know was there.

Why should we address it?

Imagine the limitations of a company where everyone was a cookie-cutter clone of each other. There’d be fewer challenging thoughts and out-of-the-box ideas, not to mention an inability to connect with a thoroughly diverse country of people.

Diversity is not just about equal opportunity, but celebrating a range of views, ideas and beliefs. Your employees won’t just be happier, but you’ll be cheering when you become a stronger, more innovative company that delivers better results.

How can we break the bias?

If unconscious bias is…well…unconscious, how on earth can we be expected to change it? Here are a few thought starters:

1. Change processes

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Yep, that old trick. Take time to examine how it lives within your organisation – whether it’s in recruitment, employee promotion or the creative and innovation space. Then, look to change processes in these areas and implement systems that enable diversity.

2. Have a voice

Whether it’s in the boardroom or when screening potential employees, question why you or your colleague may prefer one candidate over another. And, more importantly, have an honest conversation about it. If you have a niggly feeling that there’s something slightly biased in your decision, call it out.

3. Train up

Become an expert and you’ll excel at beating it. There are plenty of unconscious bias courses out there for recruiters, managers and leaders. So, get schooled and pass it on to your team; or arrange for your key decision makers to go together. The sooner you make the unconscious conscious, the better your employees and company will thrive.

Want to find out more about creating a workplace that’s consciously inclusive? Contact Justine Murphy (founder and director of boutique creative recruitment agency Beckon) at Justine@beckon.net.au

You can also follow Beckon for more thought-starters.