Bias, whether conscious or unconscious, can have a significant impact on the workplace. Unconscious bias refers to implicit attitudes and beliefs that unconsciously shape our perceptions and actions, often without our awareness or intention. Unconscious bias can arise from a variety of sources, such as our personal experiences, cultural and social conditioning, and stereotypes.
While unconscious bias is a prevalent issue in all aspects of life, it can be particularly damaging in the workplace. Unconscious bias can affect important decisions, such as hiring, promotions, and employee interactions, leading to unequal treatment and opportunities for different groups of people.
Here are three examples of unconscious bias in the workplace:
One of the most common ways that unconscious bias can impact the workplace is during the hiring process. Research has shown that people often unconsciously favour candidates who are similar to themselves, such as those with similar backgrounds, education, or personalities. This bias can result in missed opportunities for qualified candidates who don’t fit the mould, leading to a lack of diversity in the workplace. For example, a hiring manager who attended a prestigious university may unconsciously favour candidates from similar schools, even if other candidates have more relevant experience and skills. As a result, qualified candidates from less well-known schools may be overlooked, leading to a lack of diversity in the workplace.
Similarly, unconscious bias can impact promotions and career progression within an organisation. For example, employees who are seen as fitting the traditional image of a leader, such as those who are assertive and confident, may be more likely to be promoted than those who are quieter or less confident. This can result in missed opportunities for employees with unique perspectives and strengths that could benefit the organisation. For example, a team leader who values assertiveness and confidence may unconsciously overlook a team member with different skills such as excellent analytical skills, who could bring valuable insights and perspectives to the team.
Unconscious bias can also affect employee interactions, leading to unequal treatment and opportunities for different groups of people. For example, women and people of colour may be more likely to be interrupted in meetings or have their ideas dismissed, while their white male colleagues receive more recognition and support. This can create a hostile work environment and hinder the contributions of valuable employees. For example, a female engineer who proposes a new solution during a team meeting may be interrupted by her male colleagues, who dismiss her ideas and redirect the discussion towards their own. As a result, the female engineer may feel discouraged and disengaged, and her innovative solution may be overlooked.
How to recognise and stop unconscious bias
It’s important to acknowledge that everyone is susceptible to unconscious bias, and that it is not limited to a particular group or type of person. However, by recognising and understanding the ways in which unconscious bias can impact the workplace, organisations can take steps to address and mitigate its effects.
One way to address unconscious bias is through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training and awareness programs, which can help employees recognise and understand their own biases and how they impact their perceptions and actions. Additionally, organisations can implement unbiased processes and systems, such as blind resumes and standardised interview questions, to help minimise the impact of bias during hiring and promotions.
Unconscious bias can have a significant impact on the workplace, affecting important decisions and employee interactions. However, by acknowledging and addressing unconscious bias, organisations can create a more equitable and inclusive work environment that benefits everyone. By promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, organisations can tap into the unique perspectives and skills of all employees, leading to improved outcomes and greater success.