Tackling Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

In our previous article on unconscious bias, we discussed what unconscious bias is and how it affects both the hiring process and your job search. Following our awareness of it however, the next most important steps are assessing the extent of the problem and then addressing it in order to negate its impact on our lives as well as the lives of those around us. It’s a good thing over 5000 studies have been conducted on this topic, better enabling us to deal with it in the workplace. You can no longer throw our hands up and claim to be a product of the system, you can and must take responsibility for your unconscious biasses. This is how…

Identifying Unconscious Bias

While unconscious biasses are deeply ingrained and difficult to change, it’s not impossible. There are ways to minimise their impact on our behaviour and decision-making processes, but first, you have to identify your biasses and question them. Your biasses are not only hidden in your reason to dislike people but also your reason to like certain people. By questioning why we view and react to people in a certain way we can start to uncover our biasses and dissect them, which will disempower them rather than allow them to hinder our lives and careers. You cannot simply choose whether or not to hire someone based on a gut feeling and the same goes for your decision to either accept or decline an offer. When in doubt, keep asking yourself questions.

But it’s Not a Bad Bias?

Sure enough, maybe our biasses are not necessarily ‘bad’, the thing is they still affect how we perceive and react to people. In the workplace, the effects of your bias may be far-reaching though. You think that you need a female assistant because you assume women are more organised but you’ve already found the right person for the job and it happens to be a man. Is that a good enough reason not to hire someone? The IT and software development industries are subject to a lot of biases too, the stereotype of the introverted developer with an obsession for all things science fiction, may not strike the line manager or HR manager as a team leader. These are the assumptions which can stifle someone’s career and prevent them from really succeeding in their chosen field. Think twice before you assume something about someone.

Shoo That Bias Away!

As innocuous as our biasses’ may seem, they have no place in the office (or anywhere for that matter, but that’s a blog post for another day). After you have conducted a thorough investigation of your unconscious biases you have to re-educate yourself about each group of people you have made assumptions about. By expanding your social circle, engaging in discussions and stepping outside your usual comfort zone you may realise that the guy who wears Crocs on casual Fridays is actually deeply sensitive and spends his spare time painting incredible landscapes. Who would have thought?

Practical Steps to Banish Bias

While the South African government has taken steps on an institutional level to counter the after-effects of apartheid, bias doesn’t start and end with race and gender. Simple practices such as candidate benchmarking can help the person conducting the interview to take stock of what skills and qualities are most important and which are unnecessarily affecting our perceptions of the candidate.

On the whole; if we remember to hold ourselves accountable for our perceptions; (both conscious and unconscious) and our actions, we are a step closer to freeing ourselves from bias, improving our worldview and surrounding ourselves with a more diverse and interesting circle of people. Trust us, your team will reap the benefits.




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