Take a few minutes and look around at the people you work beside. Do they look like you? Talk like you? There’s bound to be some similarities, perhaps a lot of similarities but there needs to be lots of differences as well. What is the diversity mix in your company?
Unconscious bias happens when our brains make a shortcut judgment or assessment without us even realising its happening. Our biases are developed over time and influenced by our personal experiences, background, attitude and cultural environment and, while we all use them to make decisions, we’re frequently unaware of the full impact the opinions we hold have on our everyday lives.
Studies have shown that unconscious bias can play a part in the workplace, frequently around recruitment decisions.
Whilst many organisations strive to maximise their level of diversity many are also unintentionally blocking or reducing it due to unconscious bias. Worse still, some companies are putting themselves - wholly unintentionally - at risk of discrimination claims.
Recent media headlines have focused heavily on racial and gender bias but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Broadly speaking, our bias can be divided into four categories: The first is Affinity – in that we all tend to favour people who are like us on the basis that we think they will share our values and fit into our culture comfortably.
The second is Confirmation – where we search for or interpret information about a person that reinforces our preconceptions, whether those are positive or negative.
Third is Halo, where we see or know one really great thing about a person and from that, all their other traits bask in the same glow. And the final category is Horn, very simply the opposite of Halo, when we generalise one negative aspect of a person into all areas of their performance.
We are familiar with the issue of first impressions but less familiar with unconscious bias and the implications of letting it affect decisions or impact the attitudes and behaviours of everyone in an organisation.
When did your organisation last consider its policies, procedures and systems and consider if these are facilitating or creating bias? From recruitment to talent management to performance management, all can be affected by unconscious bias.
If these subjects are new to you perhaps it’s time to find out more and ensure your organisation is not putting itself at risk or you are already working only with people just like you.