What is unconscious bias?
It is where we have a learned bias that is unintentional, deeply ingrained and has the ability to unconsciously influence our behaviour. We can have unconscious biases about a multitude of things: race, gender, religion, sexual orientation – all of which probably come to mind when you think of unconscious bias. But what about age, disability, socio-economic group or weight? UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has been quoted saying that if you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it.
Bias on the brain
Psychologists state our unconscious biases are simply our natural people preferences, meaning our brain is hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and have the same lifestyles. Our brains will rapidly categorise people into groups as a way of supporting quick decision-making. However, this quick thinking and categorisation bypasses logical thinking, which may negatively impact your decision-making about people around you in the workplace.
How to identify your unconscious bias
1. Friendship group
Take a look at the people that you spend your time with. Do they all look like you, sound like you, and have the same tastes, interests and backgrounds? If so, you might be losing out on the richness that a diverse group of friends can give.
2. Networking events/industry get-togethers
When you are at industry get-togethers and networking events, try to tune in to the types of people that you are gravitating towards, and especially those that you aren’t. This can tell you a lot about some of the unconscious biases that you may have.
3. LinkedIn connections
Take a look through your LinkedIn connections, and the posts that your connections are posting about. Are your connections diverse, offering you a broad range of thought leadership on varying subjects?
4. Implicit Association Test
Harvard University has built a number of online, anonymous tests that you can complete on a range of different biases, and some may surprise you. For instance, when I did the test, it highlighted that I had a bias that suggested women should be at home looking after their families. Imagine that! Here I am by day championing for equality for women in the workplace and yet I have that deeply ingrained belief built by my own childhood experience of Dad at work and Mum at home. The online tests are the most accurate way of diagnosing your unconscious biases.
I know what my biases are… now what?
Unconscious bias is exactly that, unconscious. We don’t know that our brain is factoring in something completely insignificant to a workplace decision. However, if you have a good understanding of the bias you have, you can begin to challenge your own thinking with logical reasoning. So, say you are making a decision on who should be promoted to team leader in your team, and you have two potential candidates: one that has been with the business a long time, and another who hasn’t but has proven their abilities in the job and is ambitious but young. This is a bias I hear a lot. Challenge yourself on why you are discounting one of the parties. Really look at the needs of the job and the needs of the team; if you are truly discounting someone because of an attribute or characteristic rather than whether you think they will add value, then you have to overcome that.