Unconscious bias occurs when you make spontaneous judgments about people or situations based on your past experiences, culture, background, or exposure to media. It often manifests itself as an impression or gut feeling that shapes your perception, often in ways that are hard to articulate. These hidden preferences or prejudices can affect nearly every decision you make.
Is unconscious bias bad?
Unconscious bias is not always bad. The fact is we use all kinds of mental short-cuts countless times every day. Unconscious bias is part of being human, and it’s a tool for self-preservation that we have been leveraging from the beginning of time.
In the workplace, however, it has broader implications, some of which might be detrimental. Unconscious bias is a way we quickly process information and make decisions. These decisions can be risky if they are based solely on the bias and not rooted in objective facts.
How could unconscious bias harm my business?
In the workplace, it’s common – and often a huge benefit to employees and the organization — for employees who share interests or personality traits to develop a certain level of friendship. The challenge comes into play friendships affect the opportunities available to certain employees. If you are more familiar with a particular employee, you could be more likely to include, assign, recommend, or judge that team member differently than another with whom you are less familiar.
Unconscious bias also can interrupt prudent consideration of objective facts. For example, imagine you discover some commonalities with a prospective employee during an interview. He went to the same college, you have a mutual friend, or you both backpacked across Europe after graduation. Feeling that connection may lead you to choose that individual over another candidate who could bring more value to the company. These decisions are made countless times a day and compound over time. This could result in your organization being unable to reach it’s full potential.
What to do about unconscious bias
The goal of the training is for your employees and managers to be fair and make the most objective decision possible. If employees recognize their tendencies, they can proactively identify these blind spots and avoid non-objective decisions.
It’s not entirely possible to solve the issue of unconscious bias in the workplace. The key is to choose a few specific areas to focus on instead of addressing it broadly. Unconscious bias training is about recognizing how our assumptions can influence our decisions and making a conscientious effort to overcome those assumptions. If employees recognize their own tendencies, they can proactively identify these blind spots and avoid non-objective decisions.
The real danger of unconscious bias is that it divides people into an us vs. them mentality. Working to address specific areas around unconscious bias will lead to a more diverse, unified, and connected workforce that operates at its full potential.