How to leave unconscious bias at the door in your hiring and beyond, and build a truly diverse and inclusive organization.

At some level, we all have some unconscious bias. As the Unconscious Bias Project explains, something that starts off as a stereotype, can quickly begin to cloud the way we see everyone around us. This can cause us to misjudge and underestimate people. And if we’re all prone to unconscious bias then you can count on it that CEOs, Hiring Managers and HR Professionals all are too. 

Unconscious bias can also be self-perpetuating. If we don’t see men working as kindergarten teachers, we don’t naturally associate men with those types of jobs. All of this feeds into unconscious bias in the minds of decision makers, as well as everyone else. This then creates a barrier to more men becoming kindergarten teachers. 

What is the Difference between Conscious and Unconscious Bias? 

The diversity and inclusion initiative, developed by Vanderbilt University, defines unconscious bias (sometimes also called implicit bias) as favoring one segment of workers over another. It is a subtle favoritism – so subtle, in fact, that the favorer may, themselves, be unaware of it.  

Conscious bias, on the other hand, is deliberate prejudice against certain groups of people. 

Whether a hiring manager is suffering from conscious or unconscious bias may make little difference to someone who loses out on their dream job because of it. And this kind of short-sightedness can have a stagnating impact on your organization. 

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.  

Research from Deloitte in 2019, found 84 percent of the 3000 respondents said bias negatively impacted their happiness and confidence. For 75 percent, it had made them feel less engaged at work and nearly 70 percent said workplace damaged their productivity. 

But what can we do about it? 

You do not have to tolerate unconscious biases in the workplace or in the hiring process. While some bias may always be there, there are many ways you can identify and minimize the negative effects of unconscious bias in your organization. 

Educate Your Team 

According to Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, making sure your employees understand unconscious bias is the first step to overcoming it. We recommend you begin by having all your team members complete tests such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test. This test can show them how unconscious biases can form their personal and professional perceptions. This can be your jumping off point for in-depth training on the issue. For example, it is helpful for them to learn about issues like the different types of unconscious bias that can occur, such as affinity bias or racial bias. Some of the more traditional unconscious bias training available has been found to be ineffective so do your research and choose carefully! The right training should, for example, give individuals information to contradict stereotypes and teach them how to change their behavior.  

Hold People Accountable 

After education, accountability must follow. As Howard J. Ross of the Harvard Business Review emphasizes, 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 men, this calls for an inquiry (at the very least) into whether there might be bias favoring men in the process. 

Start Taking Apart your Job Descriptions 

Job descriptions play an integral role in the recruitment process because they provide job candidates with their first impression of an organization. They are the main source of your initial candidates to be shortlisted at interview. And the words you use matter more than you think. 

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

Prioritize Inclusion During Meetings 

Your company’s diversity program has successfully attracted professionals that come from diverse backgrounds. But diversity is only half the battle when it comes to reducing unconscious bias. Without inclusive practices in the workplace, your efforts will fall flat. 

Let’s start with meetings. It is vitally important that your management team does the following: 

  • Acknowledges everyone 
  • Values the time of other employees 
  • Sits next to different team members at each in-person meeting 
  • Does not act distracted 
  • Responds with constructive criticism, not criticism that tears someone down 
  • Asks for advice, feedback, and opinions from everyone 
  • Asks for and welcomes conflicting opinions to achieve balance 
  • Makes sure all decisions involve a group effort 

Follow the 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 affect 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. 

Establish New and Improved Diversity Goals 

Creating a diversity program is not a one-and-done deal. You must 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. 

And Remember – Unconscious Bias is Just Bad for Business! 

The bottom line is reducing unconscious bias will help your organization recruit the best employees – the kind of people who will help boost sales, improve productivity, innovate, and achieve (or surpass) your organizational goals. 

Treating everyone equally makes people feel valued and boosts your team culture. All of this will do wonders for your staff retention rate. This, in turn, saves your organization money and helps you hang onto all these amazing people you have recruited by being more open-minded in the first place.  

Reducing unconscious bias in the workplace is never easy – it is something everyone has to work on, every day. But it’s a goal that will save your business and set you apart from your competitors.