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Unconscious bias is when we make judgments or decisions based on our prior experience, beliefs, views, associations, thought patterns, judgements or interpretations, and we are not aware that we are doing it. In the workplace, this can result in managers:

  • Making misplaced assumptions about an employee’s competencies, suitability, or likely enthusiasm for specific project.
  • Treating employees differently and perhaps causing them to miss out on opportunities that might have furthered their personal and/or professional development.
  • Slowing down diversity and driving up attrition.

Everyone displays bias

Before you say you would never do that, think. Prejudice and discrimination based on gender, skin colour, age etc. are not intentional. They are deep-rooted and often centuries old. After all the ability to distinguish friend from foe helped early humans survive.

Essentially, our mind’s ability to quickly and automatically categorise people helps give order to life’s complexity. Although we all like to think we are openminded and objective, research shows that this is not the case. And the shift to remote working has in some cases made it harder for some less vocal employees to be noticed and their effort recognised. But there are ways in which you can begin to make changes.

More than operational processes

Whilst many organisations have put operational policies and processes in place around recruitment and promotion to help mitigate unconscious bias, there needs to be more done when it comes to ongoing manager/employee relationships. After all important decisions must not be taken on a one-to-one basis based on gut instinct, limited data, or worse still sweeping generalisations.

Fortunately, the world of work is slowly changing. Increasing numbers of companies are recognising that teams are made up of individuals and that those individuals need to be understood (attitudes, motivations etc.), supported and developed correctly. But it’s worth pointing out that employees can often have the last laugh as their ability to leave if their needs are not met, can put even more pressure on companies to demonstrate a more people-centric approach to work.

Make the change

For success in ensuring better-performing managers and fairer outcomes for everyone, organisations need to break from the obsession with calendar management and task optimisation and look at building in time for reflection. They also need to encourage managers to concentrate on their own professional development. This would involve:

  • Self-evaluation – reflecting on their performance and acknowledging any biases without fear of retribution
  • Committing to overcoming biases over time
  • Training and tools to help them to honing their people and other soft skills

How can we help?

Everyone can think in a way that involves unconscious bias at some point, but it’s important to be aware of it and not let it affect your behaviour or decisions.

If you need any help, support and advice please contact caroline.robertson@actifhr.co.uk for non-obligatory advice.