Unconscious bias in the workplace: Identifying and overcoming hidden prejudices

Unconscious bias in the workplace: Identifying and overcoming hidden prejudices

Understanding unconscious bias is an essential step toward creating a more inclusive and fair work environment. Of course, it's not always easy to tackle on a wide scale — that's what makes it "unconscious."

So, to help, I'm going to lay out what unconscious bias is and how you can identify personal biases. Then, I'll run through some strategies for mitigating it in your workplace. Let's get started.

Understanding unconscious bias

First, let's define unconscious bias. In a work setting, it refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that impact our understanding, actions and decisions unconsciously.

The following factors can contribute to unconscious bias:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

Let's say you were in the process of hiring a new member for your team. When reviewing and interviewing candidates, if you gravitate toward individuals who share your background or work history, that would be an example of unconscious bias. Or perhaps you have a problem you're trying to resolve. When looking for a colleague to help, you may go to those who look, act or seem to think like you. Again, that's unconscious bias in action.

With unconscious bias potentially impacting hiring, work culture, performance evaluations and more, you begin to see how these simple actions can make a company's workforce feel less diverse.

Identifying Personal Biases

Now that you know what unconscious bias is and how to identify it, do some self-reflection. After all, you can't combat unconscious bias if you can't acknowledge its presence within yourself.

This can be challenging. Different approaches — such as reflecting on past work decisions or writing your thoughts in a journal — will work for different people. There are tools readily available to help you on your quest to uncover your hidden biases, though. Harvard University, for example, has the Harvard Implicit Association Test. No matter what path you take, be willing to accept that you won't always love what you might uncover about yourself. Remain open-minded and focus on the opportunity for personal growth.

Strategies for mitigation

When you're more self-aware, you can implement practical strategies to mitigate the impact of unconscious biases. As a leader, you have a tremendous ability to lead by example and influence how others address their own unconscious biases.

Demonstrate a commitment to diversity and actively seek out opportunities to challenge biases within your teams. By fostering a culture of openness and inclusivity, you can empower employees to confront bias and work together toward creating a more equitable environment. Beyond that, tangible actions, such as adopting structured decision-making processes that minimise opportunities for bias can be immediate fixes. Blind resume reviews or diverse interview panels could eliminate flawed hiring practices, for example.

While awareness and mitigation strategies are crucial, addressing unconscious bias in the workplace is not without its challenges. Overcoming deeply ingrained stereotypes and biases requires ongoing effort and commitment from both individuals and organisations. Furthermore, the complexity of human behavior means that biases may still influence decisions despite conscious efforts to mitigate them. Just remember, it's a process. What's important is taking the necessary steps to address it.

Take further action with ICML

Unconscious bias poses a significant challenge in today's diverse workplaces, but it's not insurmountable. By fostering self-awareness, implementing mitigation strategies and promoting a culture of inclusion, you can create a work environment where every individual feels valued and respected, regardless of their background or identity.

ICML is also ready to help you in these efforts. For comprehensive training on diversity and inclusion, check out our Unconscious Bias course.

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