Why we need a holistic approach to stamp out unconscious biases in the workplace

Find out why we’re all susceptible to unconscious bias at work, and why we need a holistic approach to try to eliminate it.

Despite the best of us professing that we do not hold any kind of bias within our decision making processes or initial judgements, it is highly likely that some unconscious biases or learned behaviours have made an impression upon our perceptions or actions.

This is not to say that those who harbour these biases are bad people and have made these decisions consciously – often these judgements and decision-making processes happen without us even realising!

Unconscious biases require attention – but not vilification

Regardless of the consciousness of these actions they still require attention. But rather than vilifying the person for these unconscious judgements, it’s important to make them aware of their actions and the impact these have on themselves and others, as it is more than likely that they were unaware.  

These unconscious biases can be very tricky to unpick. They are likely to be grounded within an individual’s background, education, culture and experiences, to name but a few different factors.

A solution which is popular with many businesses is to implement unconscious bias training as a stand-alone activity to stamp these out from all areas.

However, despite good intentions it’s insufficient to mitigate the effects alone. If the messages of the awareness training are not continually raised or embedded within other areas of the business, they may quickly fall by the wayside. 

Recruitment of new employees is an area that needs attention

Some areas for attention might include the processes adopted and decisions made during the recruitment and onboarding process of new employees.    Some individuals may not be aware of how their actions could be perceived, so regular education and refreshers are important for ensuring people take stock of their personal impact regularly.  

Similarly, frequent team lunches or team days can encourage people to share their life experiences as equals and get to know others that they may not have spoken with before. Promoting, showcasing and celebrating diversity is important when it comes to improving education and stamping out unconscious biases. 

Biases rear their head in a wide variety of areas of a business – initial judgements about candidates are made as soon as their CV is received by the recruitment team. 

When recruiting, ensure there are multiple parties involved in the process as they will bring different perspectives on the most suitable candidate, thereby mitigating any unconscious bias a particular person might be unaware that they hold.

Rather than dismiss a candidate that you think may not be suitable for a job straight away, even though they hold years of experience, consider the reasonable adjustments that could be made to help that individual thrive.  

Unconscious biases are deeply embedded

It’s easy to think that just because you have encouraged employees to take a single, stand-alone course on unconscious biases then you have done enough. Unconscious biases are so deeply embedded that they require a holistic approach across all areas to ensure they have as little impact upon decision-making as possible. 

Unconscious biases do exist – acknowledging them and raising awareness about their impact is fundamental to mitigating their impact. 

Teresa Boughey MA FCIPD is CEO of award-winning Jungle HR and works with Executive Boards and Leadership Teams during times of change and business transformations.

Teresa’s revolutionary new book Closing the Gap – 5 steps to creating an Inclusive Culture is perfect for any business professional at any stage of their inclusivity journey.

Photo by Arlington Research