What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious biases are stereotypes that people form in their heads about other people. These stereotypes are often formed without conscious awareness and occur as a result of the human psychological need to categorise the world around them. They can be formed naturally as a result of lived experience or built up gradually following consistent exposure to information that reinforces the belief.

Examples of unconscious bias include thinking positively of a group of people because they look like you, and thinking negatively about a group of people who hold opposing views to yours.

Everyone is susceptible to unconscious bias which is why it is essential to address it within the workplace. Join HLS Training as we explain how to prevent unconscious bias in the workplace as well as address issues when they arise:

How to prevent unconscious bias in the workplace

1. Accept that everyone experiences unconscious bias

It can be a tough pill to swallow but everyone experiences unconscious bias, whether it’s positive or negative. Unconscious bias is psychologically unavoidable because our brains categorise the world around us, and will automatically place groups of people into ‘friends’ and ‘potential danger’.

This doesn’t mean that the bias is right or that it’s acceptable to act upon it. But once you accept that unconscious bias exists in every mind, you can begin to break down barriers of ignorance and learn how to cope with the existing issue. We can’t manage it if we don’t acknowledge it.

2. Learn to make decisions with thought

Once you and your colleagues are able to look inwards at your own bias, you will be able to make more considered decisions without acting on impulse. Take a step back and consider the situation as a whole rather than responding emotionally or reactively.

3. Teach employees to consider their behaviour

In situations where extreme reactions occur, ask your employees to consider why this has happened. It might simply be that they were thrust into an unfair situation, but it is always worth considering that unconscious bias might have come into play situationally.

4. Improve diversity within the workplace

Whether it’s through employee acquisition or by altering company policy to make the workplace more accessible for minority workers, one of the most effective ways of tackling unconscious bias in the workplace is to create a company culture where all workers are welcomed, supported and encouraged to form practical, healthy relationships with each other.

5. Set rules for conduct

Don’t tolerate interruptions from louder voices in your team. Give everyone a chance to be heard and listen with understanding and intent.

6. Don’t punish ignorance

It can be difficult to understand but when someone acts on unconscious bias, it is usually coming from a lack of understanding of the other person’s culture, beliefs or experiences in life. If you notice behaviour that seems troubling from an employee, have a chat with them about why this is occurring. Encourage them to educate themselves, and offer support to both them and the employee who is being treated unfairly.

However, it is also vital to ensure that you keep a close eye on any behaviour that spirals from ignorance into bullying and act to stop this at the source.

7. Avoid making decisions based on assumption

Assumptions go hand in hand with unconscious bias and can be easily prevented by having an open, honest conversation. For example, if you are in the position to offer a promotion to an employee and have the choice between a single man with no family connections or a mother of two, don’t assume that the mother is going to turn down/struggle more with the position due to her position at home.

Speak with her about her own circumstances and where she feels her strengths and limitations lie and make the decision based on mutual information.

8. Encourage conversation around bias

If you notice someone acting on unconscious bias, call the behaviour out. Quite often, we avoid calling our colleague’s opinions into question to ‘keep the peace’ within our place of work, when actually this caused more harm than good in the long run. The employees on the receiving end of unconscious bias often feel isolated and bullied due to assumptions made about them and this cannot be allowed to spiral.

For example, if a caucasian colleague continually speaks over an asian colleague, make a conscious effort to tell them that you want to hear what they have to say and allow them to speak. This shows that you are in their corner.

9. Apologise if you’ve made an error

It is difficult to admit when you are wrong but unconscious bias can only be dealt with if it is faced head on.

If you make a mistake, apologise to whomever you have offended and learn from the situation.

10. Invest in unconscious bias training

At HLS Training, we know that managing unconscious bias in the workplace requires sensitivity, outstanding social observation and substantial training.

Unconscious bias training

Our vital Inclusive Behaviour and Unconscious Bias E-Learning course covers the definitions of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and how your organisation must implement them following current equality legislation. You will be offered key insights into employee behaviour and given examples of workplace situations and offered varying solutions on how to respond to create an inclusive business for everyone.

Book your course today.