Bias in the Workplace: Are We Doing Everything We Can?

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by Louise Wood

‘Unconscious bias’ is the idea that we tend to favour others based on the fact they either look like us or share our values. It can be something that seems as harmless as preferring the interviewee who shares the same hobby as us, to the colleague who’s up for promotion having an existing rapport with us.

But by definition, we’re not aware of the fact that we are judging someone and applying a bias towards them through our own ‘world view’: our background, culture and personal experiences. And therein lies the problem – if you’re don’t know a problem exists, how can you address it?

The first thing to acknowledge, however, is that unconscious bias is something we all suffer from. “What diffuses most of us is simply the acknowledgment that everyone has unconscious bias, and none of us are immune from this,” Horace McCormick tells Talent Economy. “It’s just a part of the human condition”.

But that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. As this article discusses, Project Implicit’s Race Bias test has been taken by millions of people, showing that people aged 18 to 24 share the most bias of any age group, and that male Europeans displayed the highest amount of bias. Most alarmingly of all is that two-thirds of people in top executive positions within a company show a bias they are unlikely to have been aware of.

Of course, this is a serious problem: unconscious bias has a significant influence upon a company and the way that it runs, and an even more significant impact on the people working there (or hoping to). From the recruitment decisions that are made through to the occurrences of disciplinarians and promotions, an individual’s unconscious bias will have a serious impact on individuals at multiple stages of their careers.  As a result, it’s important to ask ourselves: are we doing enough to tackle unconscious bias? As helpful as HR systems and processes are, unconscious bias cannot be tackled through software or technology alone (though as HR magazine reports, a quarter of UK companies would consider using artificial intelligence to tackle unconscious bias within recruitment, with a fifth of organizations already using the technology).

The Adecco Group has found that 39% of hiring managers have never received training about unconscious bias – a serious concern given that these people are charged with the responsibility of making recruitment decisions. The effect of this is obvious when you look at the numbers of ethnic minorities in senior roles in the workplace. Despite the fact that ethnic minorities account for 13% of the population, they hold only 6.25% of management roles.

The most obvious way to tackle this problem is to ensure that 100% of managers receive good quality training on unconscious bias and that they’re reminded of their training at regular intervals to reduce the likelihood of complacency or bias creeping back in.

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Research has also shown that another effective measure to counter this problem is to encourage the uptake of ‘blind CVS’ (something championed by Deloitte) to boost diversity in the workplace, a process that depersonalises the application process. Names, ages, genders are omitted from the CV, leaving hiring managers with experience and skill set alone to make the decision or not to proceed to interview.

Of course, neither of these measures are a perfect solution to tackling unconscious bias but it should go some way to tackling serious hurdles at the earliest stage possible.

What are your experiences with unconscious biases? Let us know in the comments below!

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Photos: Pexels

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