What is unconscious bias?1
Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.
There are two types of biases:
- Conscious bias (also known as explicit bias) and
- Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias)
It is important to note that biases, conscious or unconscious, are not limited to ethnicity and race. Though racial bias and discrimination are well documented, biases may exist toward any social group. One’s age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight and many other characteristics are subject to bias.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.
Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs.
So, wondering how to address unconscious bias in the workplace? Below, we’ll provide a few helpful steps to help you do just that.2
Understand that unconscious bias is normal
Unconscious biases are the implicit positive or negative preferences for things, individuals, or groups shaped through our individual experiences. These snap judgments can have huge implications for the way we work. Unconscious bias makes us believe we are making decisions about an individual’s capabilities, professionalism, or ability to contribute based on rational details when, in reality, these are based on our personal preferences.
Identify your biases and their potential impact in the workplace
It is important for you to become aware of the biases you may have and understand the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. Think about your own potential biases and decision-making patterns; after you identify your own implicit biases, consider how these may play out in the workplace. How does unconscious bias affect who you invite to meetings, who you speak with more easily, and whose opinions influence your decisions?
Broaden your viewpoint and educate others
Another key to address unconscious biases is broadening your viewpoint and educating others. Think about these four critical steps:
- When identifying a negative bias that you may have, make a conscious effort to learn more about that idea, individual, or group to understand how and why it makes you uncomfortable.
- When making critical decisions, ensure you invite others who can broaden your viewpoint and balance any hidden biases. Ask peers representing other viewpoints for feedback on potential preference patterns you may have and actively listen to their feedback.
- If you identify a colleague who may be making a decision with potential bias, engage them in a constructive conversation to identify any possible biases in their decision.
- When working with global colleagues, understand that your perceptions of bias may simply result from a lack of understanding of cultural differences. Increase your awareness and understanding of the cultures you may be working with to better understand any potential biases you may have.
By improving one’s awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, individuals can begin to change how they think about and engage with diversity issues. Be sure to step back and ask:
“What biases might I have?”
“What impact does this have in the workplace?”
“What will I do about this?”
Increasing one’s awareness and engaging in productive dialogue is the first step in the journey of creating a globally inclusive workplace.