Running a business is no easy feat, and dealing with the people within it, and the issues that arise from having so many different people in such close proximity, is challenging to say the least. If you have biases in the workplace to deal with, you are not alone. To think that bias is extinct is naïve and therefore dangerous – a problem that is thought not to exist is likely to do harm under the radar. Even if the bias is not malicious, it may still exist and have a negative effect of people of different groups that need to work together. In many respects, the bias may be an unconscious feeling that leads to certain people feeling like they are being treated less fairly or even being discriminated against. The imperfect nature of humans means that we all times judge people based on what we see or what we think about another person. Our brain may have strongly entrenched feelings to overcome, and it can be a battle to stop our synapses from connecting the dots and jumping to quick judgements of people and situations. Our own upbringing, the media, people around us, can all have an impact on how we see other people and while the circumstances that brought about these negative feelings may be uncontrollable, the reassuring thing is that you can do something to deal with the bias that results. Tackling these deep-seated issues is a must and if you are a business owner or in a position of authority, you have a responsibility to ensure that no one in your team is treated unfairly and to help those who need to readjust their view and remove their feelings of bias.
Even in this modern day of age, when prejudice and discrimination should be a thing of the past, studies reveal that there are increasing amounts of women and people of colour that are choosing to leave their jobs due to bias in corporate America. There are greater challenges to minorities than ever before to the point that leaders across business and governmental agencies are treating these issues as a serious crisis. The long-term effects of these biases have severe consequences for the employees, their families, and their communicates. It is vitally important that employees and management staff work hard to address any bias, conscious or not, to resolve this issue. Doing so will improve a company’s reputation, attract, and retain employees and boost productivity.
The most threatening dangers are the hidden ones, the ones that are inconspicuous and therefore more deadly. Bias follows the same pattern, lurking in blind spots of the brain, emerging in subtle yet sinister ways. Simply by judging someone based on their name, the colour of their skin, or even their accent, gives evidence to a hidden, or implicit bias, that needs to be addressed quickly before the problem escalates.
What can do you do tackle unconscious bias?
There are few key things you can do to improve your workplace environment and create a place that is safe and encouraging for all who work within it.
Accept that unconscious bias is in all of us. Part of dealing with the problem is recognising that there is a problem in the first place. To think that bias doesn’t exist in your workplace is naïve and dangerous. The Implicit Association Test created by Harvard is designed to help people see their underlying biases that they may not even know exist – it can be extremely eye-opening to experience so it may be worth completing this assessment to become more aware of the bias you and others unknowingly have.
Think about your decisions. Implicit bias is more likely to rear its head when it comes to making swift decisions or act impulsively. Take the lead, and encourage others, to slow down, take a step back and make a thoughtful, considered decision.
Widen out your social circle. Encourage social activities in the workplace that make people widen out in their circle of friends. If staff can move around that can choose to sit with different colleagues, opening their hearts to people from different backgrounds which will improve their understanding of the others and create a more related work environment.
Don’t be afraid to establish some rules and speak out. Set some ground rules for behaviour and standards of conduct, make your employees aware of them, and make them live up to them. If you notice bias in someone else, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Have a quiet word with the person involved as they may not even realise that they are giving evidence to any bias. If the problem gets out of hand, speak up and take it to HR. Remind staff that it is everyone’s responsibility to create a kind, peaceful and fair environment to work in.
Humbly apologise when you get it wrong. We’re all going to mess up and make mistakes, but you can show yourself to be a humble leader by acknowledging where you or the company has made errors in fairness in the past. This honesty and transparency will show the desire to change and improve. It will also set a good example for others, to know that even if they make mistakes and show bias, they can admit them, apologise and work hard to do better next time.
Emphasis education. Equality and diversity training is a must to help people get up to speed with current events, challenge their own thinking, and create a fair and equal environment where every team member feels valued, heard, and appreciated. Training sessions and workshops will go a long way in helping people understand the seriousness of the situation and hopefully improve the atmosphere of the office for all.