Do you have an unconscious bias?

We make thousands of decisions each day from selecting the clothes we wear and people we host meetings with, to deciding what to buy for lunch. By tapping into automatic patterns of thinking, our amazing brains can process all of these decisions fairly efficiently. These automatic patterns can be based on feelings, habits, experiences, associations and more. 

As mindful and rational as we try to be, sometimes our instinctive, and unconscious, patterns of processing information impact who we hire, who gets the promotion, or who we make friends with. This is called unconscious bias.

Recognizing unconscious bias

Picture this. You have a leadership role available on your team. There are two qualified candidates who have applied; one is a man and the other is a woman. In recent years your company has gone through many hardships and so you want a compassionate leader to lead part of your team.  

Who do you select?

Depending on your biases, you might think that men are not as understanding or as emotionally connected compared to women. This assumption may unconsciously influence you to hire the female candidate over the male candidate; rather than hiring based on a comprehensive review of both candidates’ total skills and qualifications.

Unconscious biases are unintentional judgements for or against others. They are typically based on a level of subconsciousness that most of us are unaware of. And, that’s what makes these biases dangerous. 

The cost of unconscious biases

Fortune Magazine conducted a study and found that, for those who were the victims of negative unconscious biases at work, 40 per cent of them would not raise their hand to share new ideas and and state their opinions. Some of those individuals even choose to leave their current employers.

Today, most companies are struggling to maintain relevance in an ever changing market. So, if businesses aren’t hearing great ideas from their diverse pool of employees, they’ll fall behind their competitors and profits will erode.

To address this, human resource practitioners across North America are unpacking unconscious biases with executives and their leadership teams one workshop at a time. 

Breaking unconscious biases

Awareness of your assumptions will help you recognize how you, and how other people, make decisions. One of the simplest ways to bring awareness is to consult with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to get their point of view on your decisions. Next, review the criteria that you and your team use to pick and choose candidates, how you determine the right people for projects and what drives you to accept or decline meetings with people. Does your criteria contain biases? If so, remove your biases from this criteria.

You don’t need to attend a workshop to break your unconscious biases. Start today by asking yourself whether you’re evaluating other people fairly. 

On the flip side, if you are the unfortunate recipient of unconscious biases, do your best to gather up your strength to call it out to the person. Chances are, they don’t know they’re doing it. If the problem is rampant in your workplace, speak to your human resources advisor to develop an action plan to address it.