Skip to main content

‘Unconscious Bias’ is a phrase that has been circling Diversity and Inclusion teams recently.  It refers to our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.  These judgments are based on previous experience, personal bias, learned bias, and cultural/social stereotypes.

We acknowledge that we all have unconscious bias.  It serves a primal purpose.  If a dog is snarling and barking, my unconscious bias helps me make a quick decision so that I can protect myself.  If my mother is coming towards me with arms open, my unconscious bias helps me make a quick decision that I am safe and should respond in kind.

Sadly, our unconscious has not developed as quickly as our society.  Unconsciously, we still like to put information into little boxes that can be instantly sorted.  So what do we do to keep from discriminating against others with our unconscious bias when we are not even aware of the bias because it is unconscious?


Focus On Facts

When making judgments about someone else’s performance, what is true and what is conjecture?  Focus first on the facts.  What are their numbers?  Are tasks completed on time and to standard?  Do they exceed standards?

Looking at these metrics first can help put performance into perspective with the removal of bias.  If the facts do not match the initial assumption, it is important for the assessor to take a step back and question where the initial impression comes from.


Question Your Gut

Unconscious Bias can exist for many reasons. It can be based in broad terms such as age, race, sexual orientation or nationality. It can also be that an employee reminds your unconscious of your Science teacher that constantly yelled and belittled her students.

We hear all of the time that ‘you should trust your gut’. Trusting your gut can easily turn into allowing unconscious bias to make decisions. When it comes to trusting your gut, proceed with caution. Make sure those instincts match the data. Introspection will assist you in keeping that bias in check.


Embrace Diversity

Nothing fights bias like exposure to a diverse population. Lack of exposure only reinforces negative stereotypes which can lead to discrimination. Studies have shown that people working in a diverse and inclusive environment are more accepting of others’ diverse life experiences.

This can be accomplished as a company in many ways. Network groups bring attention to the diversity in the workplace. Hosting diversity events led by experts can bring a group together.

Lose the Guilt

Unconscious bias is a part of every person’s make up. It is how we are wired. It is important to not feel guilt for having an unconscious bias. Feelings are allowed. Actions are limited. Should a bias come to the consciousness that is unacceptable, it can be questioned and changed. Guilt only serves to punish.

Constantly challenge bias and take appropriate steps to take discrimination at bay. Educate yourself and your staff to help embrace diversity. Doing so will help to limit unconscious bias and lead to a healthier, more inclusive work environment.