How to spot unconscious bias in the workplace

Your unconscious mind can process up to 11 million pieces of information every second (pretty amazing stuff!). But our conscious mind can only process 40.[1]

It’s not surprising, therefore, that our unconscious mind plays a prominent role in our decision-making (even if we don’t realise it).

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias occurs when our brains make immediate judgements or assessments of people or situations without us realising. It’s what you might call gut instinct.

However, bias is not something we’re born with. It is determined by our background, culture and experiences. And while it’s impossible to be unbiased, it’s important to understand how our biases affect our decision-making, especially in business.

Unconscious bias impacts diversity

Diversity is a key trend for businesses in 2018. Embracing diversity enables businesses to attract and retain top talent, nurture innovation, increase productivity and drive profitability.

Research proves teams with a broad range of experiences and perspectives perform better. Members of inclusive teams are 19 times more likely to experience job satisfaction and four times more likely to stay with their employer.[2]

Additionally, diverse businesses are better able to understand the needs of a wider range of clients and customers.

Despite the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, unconscious bias still impacts the decisions of employers.

“Our young people often experience unconscious bias,” says Talent RISE GM, Roger Antochi. “It could be because of their background, the way they dress or speak, or because they didn’t complete their education.

“However, none of this is a reflection of their ability to do a job well. In fact, their experiences often make them more resilient and better able to moderate conflict.

“We need employers to give our young people the opportunity to reach their full potential. And that means confronting their pre-existing beliefs and assumptions.”

Limiting the opportunity for bias

What if limiting bias didn’t attempt to change people, but rather, change processes?[3] A good example of this is Vodafone’s gender blinding program in New Zealand.

“We have introduced software to remove bias from our job advertisements,” says Vodafone NZ Human Resources Director, Antony Welton. “We’ve also implemented gender-balanced shortlists across all of our roles, and blinded CVs, where the details – including gender of candidates – is removed to mitigate the risk of unconscious bias in decision-making.”

Innovative solutions to tack unconscious bias, such as these, will not only limit bias in the hiring process, but also encourage employers to understand how bias can affect their decision-making.

Are you guilty of unconscious bias?

Changing behaviour starts with education. Here are some examples of unconscious bias and how you can minimise their impact.

Types of nconscious bias

Want more?

[1] Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code. New York, New York: Bantam Dell

[2] Diversity Council Australia. (2018). Inclusion@Work index 2017–2018: the state of inclusion in the Australian workforce. Retrieved from: dca.org.au/research/project/inclusion-index

[3] Bohnet, I. (2016). What works: gender equality by design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press