Recognizing Unconscious Bias
Bypassing rational and logical thinking, we rapidly sort people into groups, thinking we are using these processes effectively and often calling them “intuition.” However, the categories we use to sort people are not actually logical and perhaps not even legal. Our brains – without our permission –take us to the brink of very poor decision making and bias. With so much information to process each day, it’s quite natural that we rely on stereotypes – or groupings – as shortcuts to help us make faster decisions.
For example, while search firms are not given “tall” as a criteria for hiring a company’s CEO, (and less than 15 percent of American men are over six feet), almost 60 percent of male corporate CEOs are over six feet. (Similar patterns are true for generals and admirals, and even for U.S. presidents.)
The challenges to change a culture that promotes bias can be daunting. First, it takes a commitment to be aware that there are widespread assumptions, patterns and norms that exert enormous influence over our decisions, choices and behaviors. These can perpetuate the status quo, keep old stereotypes alive, and be an obstacle for individuals to change their own behavior – even people who would like to do so.
10 Ways to Reduce Bias in the Workplace
- Recognize that we’re all human beings and that our brains make mistakes. Simply being aware of unconscious bias can immediately start to reduce our reliance on generalizations or stereotypes.
- Establish clear criteria in advance of making decisions (hiring, promotion, etc.) so that bias gets taken out of the decision-making process.
- Hold decision-makers accountable, including yourself. Scrutinize the criteria and think through whether it unintentionally screens out certain good candidates for hiring or promotion.
- Survey employees confidentially to find out what is really going on in every aspect of the employment process – from pre-screening resumes to hiring to promotion to career opportunities, through compensation and engagement and development as well as the performance management process.
- Train leadership and employees with an open dialogue and awareness, and encourage the initiative to go beyond the classroom to affinity groups, mentoring programs and ongoing benchmarking against best practices.
- Pair training with best practices such as joint interviews of applicants and requirements that candidate slates include diverse prospects.
- Include practices to change the culture such as micro-affirmations, including acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, acts of listening, giving credit to others, and fair and balanced feedback.
- Reward employees who engage with affinity groups and bring out the best in the culture by strengthening diversity.
- Be transparent in the progress against your goals.
- Remind yourself frequently of the importance of recognizing bias and strive to be fair at all times.