Feature Story

Combat Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Eliminating unconscious bias isn’t only about doing the right thing—it can actually strengthen business results.

Let’s face it. We all have biases. Everyone harbors them and takes them into the workplace. We’re usually not even aware that we are doing it.

When people think about bias, they usually think of race, skin color, gender, age, height, weight, or disability status. Yet bias also lurks in less obvious places—introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, foreign accents, where someone went to college, and even hobbies and interests.

Biases creep into the workplace in surprising ways. For example, a study by Queensland University found that women with blond hair had salaries that were seven percent higher than the salaries of brunettes or redheads.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every one percent increase in a woman’s body mass, there was a 0.6 percent decrease in family income.

A Duke University HR study found that “mature-faced” people had a career advantage over “baby-faced” people.

Lastly, a Yale University study found that both male and female scientists—trained to reject the subjective—were more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency than women, and pay them $4000 more annually.

Now we see that everyone harbors some sort of bias. But is it your job as a business leader to correct it?

Yes, it is.

Unconscious bias in the workplace has a direct effect on business results. It stymies diversity and skews talent and performance reviews. It affects who gets hired, promoted, and developed.

This unwittingly undermines an organization’s culture—and blunts the competitive benefits built by diverse experiences and points of view.

| Related: Time to Ditch “Old School” Performance Reviews

You may be asking, “How is unconscious bias affecting my organization’s culture and business results?” And, more important, “How can I do something about it?”

Founders from Glassbreakers on unconscious bias and the competitive advantages of taking it on.

How to Uncover and Minimize Bias in the Workplace

You can help your organization combat unconscious bias in the workplace by taking the following steps:

1. Recognize It: The first step is to acknowledge that everyone has unconscious biases. Awareness training can give employees a safe place to learn things like how to recognize their own biases and how to be mindful about combating them in every day decision making. It can also help create an organizational conversation about which biases are present and what steps organizations can take to minimize them.

2. Name It: David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, suggests that to eliminate unconscious bias, it is important to label the types of bias that are likely to happen in the workplace. For example, has the halo effect (the tendency to only see the good about a person because of a personal affinity) elevated an employee’s performance review while downgrading others? How has perception bias (the tendency to form stereotypes about certain groups) affected promotions? By labeling the possible biases and bringing them to the conscious level, leaders and employees will become more aware of how their biases affect decision making, hiring, promotions, compensation, and organizational culture.

3. Minimize It: Unconscious bias is the result of the brain’s lightning-speed ability to take in, tag, and sort information. To slow the brain down, you can create structures for activities like decision making, resume screening, and interview formats that allow for more deliberative actions. Additionally, these structures can mask irrelevant traits that may be the foundation for bias. For example, a Stanford University study found that the number of female musicians in orchestras increased fivefold after musicians auditioned behind opaque screens.

Analytics-based resume screening software can separate out non-relevant information such as name, educational background and hobbies—all factors that can drive unconscious bias.

There should also be structures that give peers the opportunity to point out times when unconscious biases may be seeping in.

The Result: Better Business Outcomes

Every worker brings a unique blend of education, experience, and skill. A diverse workforce takes advantage of these different viewpoints to spot trends, generate ideas, and make better decisions.

When you nurture awareness of various types of unconscious bias and create structures to minimize its influence, you strengthen your recruiting and retention programs—and increase the competitiveness of your diverse workforce.

Eliminating unconscious bias isn’t just about doing the right thing. It actually strengthens business results.