Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Overcoming Unconscious Bias


With immigration being such a hot topic among voters across the EU and a noticeable rise in support for the Far Right, Unconscious Bias is starting to reach the top of priority lists for HR.  In post Brexit Britain many companies have been requesting training in how to overcome Unconscious Bias as some workforces have become divided over the vote and employees from the EU have expressed concern over their treatment and future employment rights.  A Portuguese worker said she had been told by her colleagues: ‘You can stay because you’re so nice and work so hard!’  Team members told a Polish worker that he could ‘stay’ because his English was so good and he was always willing to work the unpopular shifts!

These comments demonstrate the irrational thinking which is often associated with Unconscious Bias: it is clearly not a team members’ decision whether a particular employee has the right to continue working in the UK, nor would any legal decision be emotionally selective.  However, such comments abound since June 23rd with little consideration for the feelings of our European neighbours.

So what is Unconscious Bias and why do we feel so able to make comments that are openly racist, sexist, ageist etc?  Based on our own background, culture and personal experiences our brains make quick judgments and assessments of people and situations.  Our attitudes, actions and behaviour towards other people can be influenced just as much by our unconscious thinking as by clear rational thought processes.  In the workplace these instinctive reactions can have a significant impact on key decisions around hires, promotions and performance management.  That is why objective Talent Assessment methods such as Psychometric tests and Competency/Situation/Values Based Interview techniques are so effective in avoiding ‘gut feel’ recruiting of ‘mini me’s’.

In the workplace we will often judge people within 3 seconds on appearance, including what they are wearing, their height, age, weight, skin colour and gender. We then tend to categorise workers according to their status, job title, accent and disability: the average CEO in the US is still a white male who is 6 feet tall. Making assumptions about people can sometimes reinforce stereotypes about them, for example, following a slow driver who turns out to be retired makes us believe that all older people drive slowly.  If we are subconsciously prejudiced against certain types of people, in particular those outside our normal social groups, our actions and decisions in the work environment may have major consequences.

The Equality Act 2010 aims to help protect people who are unfairly discriminated against, either knowingly or unknowingly; it defines certain ‘protected characteristics’ which should have no bearing on a person’s employment or the way they are treated: Age, Sex, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sexual Orientation.  An employer has a legal duty to ensure that people are treated fairly and in accordance with the law, both when recruiting and during employment.

However, in a recent survey by ‘Race at work’ over 24,000 people found racial bullying is on the rise in the UK with 30% of ethnic minority workers saying they have witnessed or experienced racial harassment in the past 12 months. Women doing the same jobs as their male counterparts still often earn 20% less.  54,000 new mothers have left their job in the last year because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination.  The number of complaints regarding ageism in the workplace is up 30%.  If an employee feels they are being discriminated against they may become disengaged, involved in interpersonal conflicts or even resign, which becomes costly to the organization.

Natural Talent’s Training in how to overcome Unconscious Bias has a positive impact in the workplace and attracts high ROI; it includes the following elements:

  • An interactive and enjoyable assessment of Implicit Association to measure the strength of links workers make between concepts and stereotypes and whether these are seen as good or bad
  • How to manage and improve working relationships with diverse team members
  • Raising awareness and knowledge of the many ways Equality and Diversity affects employees work, that of their teams, colleagues and the workplace, and how to improve their approach to situations
  • Identifying how other peoples’ needs and motivations differ from their own
  • Providing an opportunity to explore employees own positive and negative associations and the impact of their thoughts, words and behaviour
  • Understanding the origins of biases and challenging prejudices
  • Identifying best practice in intercultural issues
  • Understanding the benefits of diversity in the workplace
  • Receiving updates on current legislation
  • Identifying their individual key Development Areas and developing a SMART Action Plan for ongoing future development

In particular at this time of year it is good to remember the wish for ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men…and Women!’





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