Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconcious BiasUnconscious bias in the workplace occurs when people favour others who look like them and/or share their values and/or beliefs. For instance, a person may be drawn to someone with a similar educational background, from the same area, or who is the same colour or ethnicity as them.
Unconscious bias in the workplace can influence decisions in recruitment, promotion and performance management. It could be discriminatory when the unconscious bias relates to one of the nine protected characteristics.

Affinity Bias

Affinity bias, is when someone feels an affinity with another person as they have similar life experiences. For example, where an employer meets an employee or potential employee and is reminded of themselves when they were younger because of the employees’ personal circumstance or personality type. For Instance, a manager who worked hard to achieve his position despite never doing very well at school may treat an employee who left school without qualifications more favourable than the other staff. This could be because, subconsciously, they are reminded of their younger self. The same can be true of a manager who is educated to degree level, favouring employees who have also been to university.

The Halo Affect

Another form of unconscious bias is known as the halo effect. This is where a positive trait is transferred onto a person without anything really being known about that person. For example, those who dress conservatively are often seen as more capable in an office environment, based purely on their attire.
Behaviour which reinforces the bias is noticed, whilst behaviour which does not is ignored. This is how decisions based on unconscious bias are justified.
Everyone has unconscious biases. The brain receives information all the time from our own experiences and what we read, hear or see in the media and from others. The brain uses shortcuts to speed up decision making and unconscious bias is a by-product. There are times when this sort of quick decision making is useful. For example, if faced with a dangerous situation. However, it is not a good way to make decisions when dealing with recruiting or promoting staff.

Key points

  • Unconscious bias is natural.
  • It is unintended.
  • But can affect decisions.
  • It can be mitigated.

Unconscious bias at work can influence decisions in recruitment, promotion, staff development and recognition. But it can lead to a less diverse workforce. Employers can overlook talented workers and instead favour those who share their own characteristics or views.
Where unconscious bias is against a protected characteristic, it can be discriminatory. For instance, during a recruitment process an employer ignores the skills and experience of a candidate who is a different race. They then appoint another candidate who is the same race. This could be construed as discriminatory.
Conscious thoughts are controlled and well-reasoned. Unconscious thoughts can be based on stereotypes and prejudices that we may not even realise we have. Stereotypes surrounding tattoos may subconsciously suggest a person is unlikely to conform and follow rules. Stereotypes surrounding mothers may lead to unconscious bias against women who apply for a role, which may involve regular travel away from home.

How to overcome unconscious bias

  • Be aware of unconscious bias.
  • Don’t rush decisions rather take your time and consider issues properly.
  • Justify decisions by evidence and record the reasons for your decisions. For example, during a recruitment exercise.
  • Try to work with a wider range, more diverse group of people and get to know them as individuals. This could include working with different teams or colleagues based in a different location.
  • Focus on the positive behaviour of people and not negative stereotypes.
  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences.
  • Train managers on how they can recognise, and overcome their own unconscious bias.

Contact Us

If you think you maybe looking at unconscious bias in the workplace and want to know more how to train your staff, then please call us on 01706 565332 or email info@metishr.co.uk
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.

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