Opinion: Beyond bias - managing unconscious bias in the workplace

by Contributor15 Mar 2017
How widespread is Affinity bias and Stereotype bias in your workplace? James Judge and Glenda May suggest these forms of unconscious bias might be doing more damage than you're aware of

As we strive for equality and diversity in our workplaces, it becomes even more critical to understand the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. Our unconscious biases are pervasive and affect our decision-making with respect to hiring, appraising performance, evaluations, team-building, choosing friends and even our careers.

We are all affected by unconscious bias to some degree. While our prejudices may vary, we’re still the same in having human prejudices. Why is there so much attention placed on this psychological tendency? Because our decision-making might result in outcomes we didn’t intend. This means less innovative workplaces, talent being overlooked for promotion, problems with employee engagement, poor team constitution and loss of opportunity (in both a business and a personal sense)

Unfortunately, it’s easier to take the perspective of someone who resembles our own demographic characteristics or make a decision that confirms our past patterns or experiences. Affinity bias and Stereotype bias are two common forms of bias present in the workplace.

Affinity Bias occurs when we gravitate to people like us and create a sense of familiarity. We are fundamentally biased to favour people similar to us and biased against those that are different.

Stereotype bias operates when we live up, or down, to the expectation placed on us. Reminding women (of the stereotype) that they are not good at maths has been shown to diminish their performance in maths tests. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she would run for the Presidency of the US brought another example out of the woodwork: “How can a woman who is 70 be President”. Did Ronald Reagan ever suffer those comments?

In Australia, a 2010 study showed that applicants from diverse backgrounds had to submit significantly more applicants to secure job interviews. To attain as many interviews as an Anglo job applicant, an Italian person had to submit 12% more applications, an Indigenous person 35%, a Middle Eastern person 64%, more and a Chinese person, 68% more. 

Bias does not make us bad people - it just means we have developed bad thinking habits! Just being aware of the potential for bias is enough to start shifting our behaviour. Bias-countering strategies in the workplace can help to make unconscious biases conscious. In other words, it makes us aware of our thinking patterns so that we can make the best rational decisions, not decisions based on these faulty thinking habits.

About the authors
James Judge is the CEO of Australian Human Resource Professionals & Glenda May is a Corporate Psychologist and International Facilitator. To gain further insights or to book a facilitated discussion on 'Uncovering Unconscious Bias in your Workplace' contact James on 0434 265 459 or james@ahrp.com.au 

 

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