Updated: Jun 21, 2018
Unconscious bias influences many aspects of our lives, from the car you drive to the employee you decide to promote. While we are often unaware of our unconscious or implicit biases, we carry them into every situation, even the workplace.
So, what exactly is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias refers to a bias we are unaware of, formed without intent as we go through life. These deeply subconscious attitudes are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experience. Unconscious biases can affect the perception and perspective of many things, including race, gender, appearance, age, and wealth.
These underlying biases occur automatically and are triggered when our brains make quick judgements of people and situations. Because of their reflexive nature, implicit biases are particularly hard to catch and harder still to counteract.
Unconscious bias left unchecked can have a detrimental impact on various areas of business. It can impair acquisition and cultivation of a diverse workforce, limit innovation and creativity that stems from unique perspectives and experiences, lower retention rates, and promote a disconnected workplace culture.
The main areas of business that can suffer due to unconscious bias are: recruitment, screening, performance reviews and feedback, coaching and development, and promotions. Therefore, it is important to be aware of these subconscious influencers during these stages of employer-employee interaction.
Various studies have linked diversity with higher financial performance. McKinsey's Delivering Through Diversity report states that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more profitable. Additionally, a Catalyst study reports a 34% higher return to shareholders in companies with more women executives compared to companies without. And yet many organizations remain diversity negligent.
In order to garner the many benefits that a diverse workforce provides, it is important for business leaders to recognize and combat prevalent unconscious biases that could be limiting their organization’s diversity. Something as simple as slowing down your thinking and decision making processes can help to clarify the presence of unconscious bias. Various methods such as psychometric assessments and diverse selection panels can help mitigate unconscious bias during hiring, performance reviews, and promotions.
However, hiring employees from various backgrounds with unique perspectives is only the beginning. To truly unlock the potential of a diverse workforce, companies must promote inclusiveness amongst employees. By embracing group differences and ensuring everyone is valued, employees will be empowered and comfortable with sharing their diverse perspectives.
Minimizing unconscious bias in the workplace will benefit an organization's bottom line, as well as their corporate culture. Promoting inclusiveness and awareness of unconscious bias will encourage innovation and connectedness through all levels of your organization.
Need help? The HR SOURCE is hosting a dialogue session on Diversity & Inclusion on Thursday, June 28 in Washington, DC. To register, click here.