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How do you deal with unconscious bias at work?

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As more and more companies commit to diversity, fairness, and inclusion, it’s no surprise that unconscious biases are coming to the fore. The implicit biases ingrained in corporate cultures refer to subconscious attitudes that influence how people interact with others at work.

While some implicit biases are directly related to age or gender, others lead to people being judged based on their height, weight, or even how they are perceived.

Unconscious bias can have a profound effect in the workplace. For example, they can affect retention, engagement, productivity, brand reputation and ultimately the bottom line. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review and the University of Chicago surveyed more than 1,900 employees of large companies to determine whether they perceive bias at work. Those who perceived themselves to be not proud of working for their company are twice as likely, three times as likely to plan to leave within the year, and more than four times as likely to feel alienated at work.

Since unconscious biases stem from stereotypes that people are not aware of, it can be difficult, but not impossible, to detect them. Here are some of the most common forms of implicit bias and ways to address them in the workplace.

  1. affinity biases

Also known as similarity bias, this type of bias causes people to be attracted to people who look similar to them. These similarities can relate to backgrounds, interests, and appearance. For example, if you were interviewing someone who went to the same college as you, you might automatically think that they are a good fit for the team.

To combat the affinity bias, ask yourself why you are drawn to certain people at work. Also encourage feedback and try to find common ground with all your colleagues, even those with whom you don’t agree.

  1. Appearance bias

This type of unconscious bias involves judging a person based on their appearance. Physical traits used to treat people differently include hair color, weight, height, and even perceived beauty. According to an academic study published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, physically attractive people are more likely to get an interview and get hired, advance quickly in their careers and earn higher salaries than less attractive people.

The good news is that this bias is easier to combat than others. A simple example is deleting photos or appearance data in the hiring process. In addition, a structured selection process that screens candidates before personal interviews helps avoid bias based on appearance. By screening candidates by phone first rather than by video, you can select the most qualified people without any unnecessary bias affecting the process.

  1. confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out new information and interpret it in ways that confirm one’s opinions. It affects our ability to think objectively, which leads to poor decision making. For example, let’s say you’re doing market research for a new product at work that you think is the next “big thing.” Although you have collected information proving that consumers do not want this product, you are classifying these data points as outliers in order to reinforce your initial hypothesis.

To avoid this unconscious bias, follow the data when making decisions. For example, when hiring, try not to form a first opinion of candidates based on their name or where they went to school. Instead, ask standardized skills-based questions to give everyone a fair chance.

  1. gender bias

Sexism is a form of unconscious bias that involves favoring one gender over another. This is often the preferential treatment men receive in the workplace. According to the latest Women in the Workplace study, only 25% of senior managers are women. For every 100 men who were promoted from junior level to management, only 87 women were promoted.

One of the most effective ways to combat gender bias is to train your employees to identify and directly challenge it. You can also avoid it by adopting gender-neutral hiring practices. By applying blind assessment techniques, such as skill testing and work samples, it will be much easier to diversify your workforce.

  1. age biases

Aging in the workplace affects the young and old. It involves treating someone less favorably because of their age. An example is passed over for promotion due to age. Another example is being encouraged or forced to retire.

To combat age bias, encourage reverse mentoring, in which younger workers are paired with an older employee. It also rewards workers based on performance rather than seniority. Finally, be sure to write job descriptions without using potentially discriminatory terms like “young team.”

If left unchecked, unconscious bias can hinder diversity, equality, inclusion efforts, and the development of a healthy company culture. The first step is realizing it. Hence it is essential to take action and lead by example. By understanding different biases and knowing how to address them, you will be able to create an environment conducive to innovation, creativity and diversity.

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Caroline Castrillon

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