When thinking of bias in the workplace, most individuals first think of obvious or classic cases of bias (distinguished by the fact that they are both intentional and conscious). A classic form of bias would be actions taken to intentionally discriminate against individuals because of their race, gender or ethnicity. For example, refusing to hire people because of their race or promote people because of their gender are classic examples, both intentional and conscious. Thankfully, most employers have adopted fair employment practices designed to manage these types of bias.

However, bias creeps into today’s workplace in more subtle ways.’ Unconscious biases are prejudices we have but are unaware of. They are mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes. (Guynn, J. 2015, Google’s bias busting workshops target hidden prejudices. USA Today.)  These mental shortcuts lead us to tag information as good or bad and then apply it to entire groups, leading us to make decisions in favor of one group to the detriment of others.

Some of the unconscious biases that affect the workplace include:

Affinity bias: The tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.

Halo effect: The tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.

Perception bias: The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that make it impossible to make an objective judgment about members of those groups.

Confirmation bias: The tendency for people to seek information that confirms preexisting beliefs or assumptions.

Group think: This bias occurs when people try too hard to fit into a particular group by mimicking others or holding back thoughts and opinions. This causes them to lose part of their identities and causes organizations to lose out on creativity and innovation.

Addressing it at the Organization Level

The Implicit Association Test – The online Implicit Association Test, a result of collaboration among psychologists from Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, was designed to help test takers assess their unconscious biases. Since it was launched in 1998, more than 6 million people have taken the test.

Awareness training can be a springboard to start the conversation around how unconscious bias is impacting your workplace. Awareness training should give employees a safe place to learn about unconscious bias, how to recognize their own biases, and how to be mindful about combating them in everyday decision making. Many organizations, like Google,  At Chubb, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are using various forms of awareness training to tackle this problem head on.

Implementing structure around hiring and development can help ensure that decisions are based on objective data.  Predictive Index® is a behavioral assessment that measures an individual’s drives and motivations and can accurately demonstrate how a potential candidate or current employee will make decisions, take risks, respond to conflict, and respond to change. The tool provides measurable data that lessens the potential impact of unconscious bias. If you are interested in how the Predictive Index® can help your organization, please visit our website here.

Keeping Yourself Honest

There are also things you can do as an individual to ensure that you are treating all employees with fairness and respect.

  • When interviewing, don’t trust your gut. Compare apples to apples by developing a set of questions, each accompanied by a rating scale of 1-5, that all candidates must answer.
  • Create performance standards that are objective and measurable so they can be applied equally to all employees at the same level.
  • Before making a decision in which you must compare one team member to another, share performance-only details with a third-party who does not know the team members.
  • Don’t overcompensate, worrying so much about making a negative judgment based on bias that your evaluation is overly positive.
  • Practice empathy. Imagine yourself in your team members shoes and always ask: “Would I think this scenario is fair?”
  • Be an accessible, open communicator. If team members feel they can talk to you about sensitive issues, you’ll prevent bias situations from escalating.

And remember, we are all susceptible to biases It’s what we do with them that can present unintentional and undesirable consequences

About MCG Partners

MCG Partners a woman-owned, Greater Boston-based consultancy specializing in executive coaching, leadership development, talent management, and organizational development solutions. We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle. MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner.

To learn more about MCG Partners’ services or The Predictive Index®, contact John Griffith at john.griffith@mcgpartners.com or visit mcgpartners.com.

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