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Recognizing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Group of employees recognizing unconscious bias

More companies are focusing on and supporting diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the workplace. In addition to being of moral and cultural importance, D&I can also optimize your daily operations and help you reach your business goals. And as more companies set their sights on D&I, unconscious bias is a phrase we’re starting to hear more and more about. Company leaders and decision makers are ramping up their efforts to recognize unconscious bias across their entire organization – in recruiting, hiring, and management practices.

However, understanding unconscious bias and its many forms isn’t always straightforward so keep reading for ways to define, recognize, and address it across the workplace and in ourselves.

Unconscious Bias and Its Many Forms

In order to address and overcome unconscious bias, we must first understand what it is, where it comes from, and its many forms. Bias in the workplace is the purposeful or accidental assumptions made throughout business operations and objectives, specifically when comparing employees – this can include hiring candidates or delegating tasks. Both conscious and unconscious bias exist. But while conscious bias is an active, understood, and calculated choice to act in that way, unconscious bias is a behavior, action, or inaction performed unconsciously. So, the individual demonstrating it has no idea they’re acting in a way that favors some and excludes others. This makes unconscious bias very challenging to combat without effective training.

Our past experiences, beliefs, and expectations determine our perceptions and how we think, react, behave, and engage with the world around us. This is why each person’s perception of reality is different. In order to overcome unconscious bias we have to first change our beliefs, and thereby the way we perceive the world around us.

The first step to doing this is being aware of the various types of biases that exist in the workplace:

  • Gender Bias – This occurs when one gender is preferred over another i.e. women are passed over for a promotion or leadership position, the pay gap that exists between men and women working the same position.

  • Racial Bias – Discrimination against someone because of their perceived race i.e. applications with perceived “ethnic” names being dismissed, structural racism.

  • Age Bias – This includes all kinds of assumptions about someone’s age i.e. assuming older employees don’t understand or like technology, assuming younger employees are not suitable for leadership roles or more responsibility.

  • Sexuality Bias – This involves assumptions about someone’s sexuality, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community i.e. being passed over for promotions despite qualifications, lower pay, not being considered for certain positions.

While unconscious bias does not stop there, those are certainly some of its most common manifestations in a professional setting. Bias can also stem from a desire to belong or fit in with the larger group, or from forming an attachment or bond with someone we share a likeness of or common interests with.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Now that we have a definition of unconscious bias and an understanding of its many forms, how do we reduce and eliminate it in the workplace?

  • Employee Surveys – You can use employee surveys to gauge workplace bias and help employees identify and recognize it in themselves. It is best to keep these surveys anonymous so individuals feel comfortable being completely honest in their responses.

  • Blind Recruitment Practices – Hiring practices that hide identifying factors such as names, age, gender, etc. can help reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment process.

  • Gender-Neutral Language – Using gender-neutral language in workplace communication and practices (memos, recruitment, etc.) creates an environment that feels welcoming and inclusive for all its employees without favoring certain groups.

  • Enhance D&I Initiatives – For more information on how to create and foster a workplace founded in D&I, check out our blog post on the topic! However, to get you started, you can implement diversity tests as a part of employee training and hold diversity events such as supporting pride days and celebrating important holidays in other cultures.

  • Leadership Development – Specific leadership training helps leaders recognize unconscious bias and learn techniques to reduce it in their teams. It also leads to finding ways to change the workplace structure and decision-making processes to help reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

  • Communication Training – Teaching employees how those from different cultures or backgrounds may communicate differently can be essential for reducing the implicit effects of unconscious bias.

Although we’ve defined unconscious bias and outlined some general strategies on how to reduce it in the workplace, this post is just the beginning – unconscious bias is a rooted and complex issue. If you need support on your journey to reduce or eliminate unconscious bias in your workplace or yourself, Premier HR Solutions is here to help. Click the link below to learn more about our customized training workshops.

By eliminating unconscious bias in our professional and personal lives, we can create a better work environment and larger culture for everyone.


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