Unconscious biases are prejudices triggered by the brain to automatically assess people and situations based on personal background, cultural upbringing, and life experiences. Examples of such prejudice would include casting unknowingly judgement on others as a result of their skin color, gender, age, height, weight, introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, disability status, foreign accents, or where they attended college. While workplace inclusivity is a priority for most organizations, it may be tough to achieve without proper resources. Unconscious bias happens outside of an employee’s control, and clouds their sense of fair judgement. Holding your colleagues and yourself accountable for identifying these biases is an intimidating task. Research indicates that it is possible to reduce and manage unconscious bias through recognition and discussion. Through unconscious bias training, organizations of all shapes and sizes can start the dialogue on how they can provide a more welcoming environment for their employees to produce measurable results.
Over 150 unconscious biases that have been uncovered so far. The most widely recognized unconscious biases directly affecting the workplace include:
- Groupthink: This is a bias formed from thinking or making decisions as a group in a manner that is detrimental to creativity or individual responsibility. An example of how a workplace decision may be impacted by groupthink may be observed when a group of employees conglomerate in exclusive cliques within the office and base their choices on what the majority votes on without voicing their own personal opinions. Groupthink may be challenged by employees suggesting and standing by alternatives to what may be considered as the popular opinion of a team.
- Perception Bias: This is a bias formed from forming stereotypes based on sensory inputs (sight, touch, smell, taste, or hearing). An example of how a workplace decision may be impacted by perception bias may be observed when an employer makes a hiring decision based on the physical appearance of a candidate. Perception bias may be challenged when an organization takes a neutral approach to how they perceive others.
- Affinity Bias: This is a bias formed from warming up to people that bring personal comfort and excluding those who are not. An example of how a workplace decision may be impacted by affinity bias may be observed when an employee feels that they work better with co-workers that share the same ethnicity as them. Affinity bias may be challenged when employees reach out to co-workers whom they normally would not talk to in order to discover similarities shared between both parties.
- Confirmation Bias: This is a bias formed from interpreting new evidence as a confirmation of pre-existing assumptions. An example of how a workplace decision may be impacted by confirmation bias may be observed when different groups in an organization are evaluated by management. Confirmation bias may be challenged when an employees do not ignore evidence that disconfirms an explanation.
- Halo Effect: This is a bias formed from using a positive impression of an individual to impact the ratings for all areas of performance. An example of how a workplace decision may be impacted by the halo effect may be observed when a manager gives an employee general positive feedback during a performance review. as opposed to accurate feedback on specific strengths and weaknesses. The halo effect may be challenged by having both the employer and employee hold one another accountable for exchanging genuine feedback such as strengths and opportunities for growth.
Consequences of Unconscious Bias
Unconscious bias is a barrier to “cultivating diverse talent, developing an engaged workforce, leveraging unique experiences and perspectives, and sparking innovation through collaboration.” Many organizations have made it a priority to address and eliminate as many prejudices in the workplace as possible. An example of this was seen on Thursday, April 12, 2018 when a Starbucks Coffee employee racially profiled two African-American men and caused for them to be arrested by police officers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following this incident, Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks Coffee, released a public statement announcing that “Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.” Kevin Johnson took the initiative to lead by example and accepted full responsibility for the actions of his employee. He issued an apology and expressed interest in scheduling a face-to-face meeting to apologize to both gentlemen in person. The public deemed this apology as insufficient and demanded for more to be done with respect to reprimanding the party responsible for the discrimination.
In response to this uproar, Starbucks Coffee respectfully acknowledged that although they are unable to revert the actions of a specific employee, they will do everything in their power to “help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.” On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 29, 2018, Starbucks Coffee took the additional step to close 8,000 of their U.S. stores to provide a mandatory unconscious bias training session to their 175,000 employees. It is highly encouraged for all organizations to learn from Starbucks Coffee’s example by taking measures to prevent and minimize risk now with unconscious bias training before it becomes a legal concern in the future.
Payoff of Diversity & Inclusion From Unconscious Bias Training
Everyone has had their own fair share of negative experiences involving unconscious bias, and more times than not, this unconscious bias has been carried with us into the workplace. If left unaddressed, this issue will become toxic to an organization’s diversity, recruiting efforts, retention rates, and company culture. Unconscious bias has a direct effect on an organization’s hiring, promotions, development, performance reviews, and bottom line. It is nearly impossible to change what we do not know, and we will not act upon what we do not acknowledge. Fortunately, unconscious bias training exists, and it is the solution to this issue. Employers of all sizes are encouraged to provide this phenomenal resource to their employees as a way to increase personal awareness and inclusive behavior in the workplace.
Unconscious bias training will help employees increase the level of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. To promote a message of equality in the workplace, employees need to start from within. Inclusive behavior in the workplace is led by increasing the diversity in the hiring, development, and promotion of team members. Studies show that diversity in the workplace forms more positive results such as financial and customer satisfaction. Diversity also provides an collaborative environment that invites fresh ideas and innovation. By taking a moment to thoroughly analyze a situation and become more aware of their own biased thoughts, it will be easier to recognize these unconscious biases and challenge them.