Learn how to reduce unconscious bias by educating employees, revamping job descriptions and implementing contemporary diversity initiatives

There is a saying for restaurant employees that goes like this: Leave your drama at the front door. For CEOs, managers, supervisors and human resource professionals, we can take the old restaurant industry saying and add a little twist.

Leave your unconscious bias at the front door.

Extensive research demonstrates that bias is alive and well in virtually every industry. Iris Bohnet, the Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, says workplace bias can stymie diversity, recruiting, promotion and retention efforts.

According to Bohnet, if we don’t see men being kindergarten teachers, we don’t naturally associate men with those types of jobs. Or if we don’t see female engineers, we don’t naturally associate women with engineering jobs. As such, we don’t apply the same standard for different genders.

“Managers have to learn to de-bias their practices and procedures,” she states.

What is Unconscious Bias?

You could spend all day trying to refine a definition for unconscious bias and still walk away from your computer confused about what it means. The diversity and inclusion initiative developed by Vanderbilt University has created one of the easiest-to-understand definitions.

Also referred to as implicit bias, unconscious bias favors one segment of workers over another. The favoritism is considered subtle, as the person exhibiting the prejudice is often unaware the discrimination exists.

On the other hand, conscious bias represents deliberate prejudices that overtly hurt another person or a group of people.

Regardless of whether our bias is conscious or unconscious, it can negatively impact our workplace environments. According to research conducted by Deloitte, 84 percent of the 3000 respondents to the 2019 State of Inclusion report said bias negatively impacted their happiness and confidence.

For 75 percent, the bias they experienced negatively influenced how engaged they felt in the workplace. A little more than 68 percent of the respondents to Deloitte’s study said bias adversely affected their workplace productivity.


How to Reduce Bias in the Workplace

You do not have to tolerate unconscious biases in the workplace. Although your organization might not eradicate bias, following each of these steps can help you minimize the adverse outcomes produced by unconscious bias.

#1 Educate Your Team

According to Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, educating your employees about the presence of unconscious bias is the first critical step. Professor Gino stresses the importance of awareness training because it educates employees about recognizing the signs of unconscious bias.

Have team members complete tests such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test. This test can teach your team members about how unconscious biases form their personal and professional perceptions. It’s also a good idea to learn about the types of unconscious bias that can occur, such as affinity bias, racial bias, etc.

#2 Hold Everyone Accountable

You have educated your team about how to recognize bias in the workplace. Now, you have to hold each employee accountable, especially the human resource professionals responsible for teaching the entire team how to reduce bias in the hiring process.

As Howard J. Ross of the Harvard Business Review emphasized, actions speak much louder than words. Let’s say a manager gives ten performance reviews – five each for men and women. If out of the highest five performance reviews, four are women, this calls for an inquiry (at the very least) into whether there might be bias favoring women in the process.

#3 Modify Job Descriptions

During the initial stage of the hiring process, job candidates review job descriptions to determine whether they possess the personal and professional qualifications for an open position. Job descriptions play an integral part in the recruitment process because they provide job candidates with their first impression of an organization.

“Even subtle word choices can have a strong impact on the application pool,” stated Gino. Word choices are especially crucial when you need to reduce unconscious bias regarding gender.


#4 Make Inclusion a Priority During Meetings

Your company’s diversity program has successfully attracted professionals that come from diverse backgrounds. Yet, you are just halfway home on the road to reducing unconscious bias. You also have to implement inclusive practices in the workplace.

Let’s start with meetings.

  • Acknowledge everyone
  • Value the time of other employees
  • Sit next to different team members at each in-person meeting
  • Do not act distracted
  • Respond with constructive criticism, not criticism that tears someone down
  • Ask for advice and opinions from everyone
  • Ask for conflicting opinions to achieve balance
  • Make sure all decisions involve a group effort

#5 Make Decision Driven by Data

An effective way to reduce bias in hiring is to minimize the impact of unconscious bias when selecting a job candidate. Several techniques can help you make the hiring process much more objective. Many of the methods rely on data, which removes some, if not all, emotions that can taint job candidates’ vetting.

Intelligent data generated by using different methods can give you an objective insight into job candidates, as well as the performance of employees.

#6 Establish New and Improved Diversity Goals

Creating a diversity program is not a one-and-done deal. You have to change goals and parameters to achieve optimal diversity constantly. Focusing on improving your diversity initiative can reduce unconscious bias in the workplace.

According to Gino, leaders need to track how they’ve performed against their diversity goals after every hiring process. This will create a culture of keeping diversity and equality top of mind throughout the organization.

How to Address Workplace Bias

Employers have made tremendous progress removing conscious bias from the workplace. However, implicit bias remains a problem for many organizations. The key to addressing workplace bias is to focus on unconscious bias training.

This is not just something you should do when you onboard new employees. You should schedule training sessions throughout the year that address how to reduce bias in the workplace.

Here is what bias training should accomplish:

  • Learn how to increase awareness
  • Develop more inclusive professional networks
  • Increase exposure of unconscious bias practices
  • Encourage participants to ask questions
  • Form a consensus on how to reduce bias in the workplace

The Bottom Line: Reducing Unconscious Bias is Good for Business

Reducing bias of any kind in the workplace makes sound business sense. Your organization attracts higher-quality job candidates that when hired, help boost sales and improve productivity.

Putting every employee on a level plane enhances employee morale, which goes a long way toward achieving a higher retention rate. A higher retention rate means less turnover, which that saves your organization money.

You get the picture.

Reducing unconscious bias in the workplace requires a commitment that everyone in your organization makes every day. The hard work pays off when one day, unconscious bias comes knocking on your front door to be greeted with a “Not Welcome” sign.