How Managers Can Recognize Their Own Unconscious Bias


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You have probably heard a lot about diversity hiring targets. Maybe your organization even has initiatives or mandates to attract diverse candidates. Building a strong pipeline of diverse candidates is only meaningful if you can get them to stay with the organization. To do that, it’s critical to understand your own unconscious bias and how that may be affecting the make-up of your team and the organization.


What is unconscious bias?


How we make sense of other people is a two-part process. The first involves interpreting characteristics about them – how they sound, how they behave, and what they look like. The second involves applying what we know, or what we think we know, about them. This creates our impression of them.

Many people believe that their interpretation of people is accurate. However, our impressions of others are influenced by our own experiences, expectations, and assumptions. This often builds an inaccurate, or biased, perception of others.  

Biases develop from our past experiences and this starts at an early age. Examples of common unconscious biases include a preference for similar individuals, a fear or suspicion of people who are different and applying stereotypes to others. When unconscious bias occurs in the workplace it can manifest in ways such as:

  • Giving preference to a specific group or gender when making hiring decisions

  • Promoting someone who is available 24/7 and dismissing someone who you think is less available

  • Believing that assertiveness is a positive characteristic for male employees, but less desirable for female employees

These types of biased judgements can be very problematic for workplace relationships and the organizational culture.


Everyone has biases


It’s important to understand that everyone has unconscious biases. Even if you’re not prejudiced in any way, you are biased. Organizations striving to create unbiased workplaces try to address unconscious bias through training and assessments. Training is a great first step, but it can’t entirely fix the problem.

With unconscious bias, expecting people to catch their biases in the moment and correct them is almost impossible. What is more effective is strategies that can correct bias in people who do not think that they are biased.



Correcting Bias


Bias has been widely studied and psychologists and neuroscientists have found that different types of bias are driven by specific neural and cognitive functions. Breaking different types of bias requires specific strategies for each. For example, biases caused by mental laziness and stereotypes can be corrected by applying a specific decision-making process. Following the process leads to more intentional and thorough assessments of others. An unconscious bias towards certain groups can be corrected by focusing on shared goals.

Raising awareness through unconscious bias training is important, but strategies designed to correct biases can be very effective. If you think you are struggling with unconscious bias, consider how you can change your decision process or reference points. These strategies can make your organization more diverse and create an inclusive environment where new hires will stick around.