Abbas hires Keith for the job over Vanita as he feels that men are better workers than women. He thinks that women belong in the kitchen and not at the workplace!
Manik believes that people who have improper communication don’t make good Managers.
Arthi only speaks to colleagues from her state as she thinks that others are taking away jobs for locals.
Men don’t have feelings.
Light-skinned people are more trustworthy.
All women drivers are dangerous!
What better way to understand what a bias is than these examples above? While some of these biases are deliberate opinions, many are unconscious biases.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias is defined as “having a one-sided point of view about something, which tends to influence our decision and opinions about things”. Such biases can be directed towards cultures, races, genders, religions, etc. Simply put, it is the tendency to interpret or judge people or situations based on our own experiences and belief systems.
So, aren’t we all biased? Yes, we all are.
Think of an unconscious bias as a cognitive muscle memory. All of us are biased and have faced biases one way or the other at some point in our life.
But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Biases can be positive! In fact, 99.9% of the time, our decisions are based on unconscious biases. We receive around 11 million bits of information every minute and can consciously process only 40 bits at a time. While our conscious brain cannot interpret all we see, our first instincts with which we decide things often include biases of some kind that we did not consciously “think”. This simplification helps us human beings to survive by sustaining our energy.
But there is also a negative side to it. These biases sometimes affect our mindset and guide functioning at our workplaces and organizations. Workplace harassment occurs largely on account of employees or managers being biased and having preconceived notions or stereotypes about people and issues.
Whether it’s the belief that women cannot make good managers or that only those proficient in English are good communicators, these biases lead to harming people and obstructing a company’s true growth potential. In cases such as unconscious biases that make men take women less seriously, it could even lead to consequences as dangerous as sexual harassment at the workplace.
So, what can we do about these unconscious biases?
Bringing Inclusion- The Way Forward
Awareness about unconscious biases and mindfulness in breaking them is the path to a more inclusive workplace.
Managers and employees can make wiser, more ethical decisions if they understand their unconscious biases and constantly work at moving past them by not letting these thoughts impede their judgement.
Hence, to counter it, Consciously Un-Bias! The way forward in order to reduce the negative effect of biases would be to:
- Build bias awareness in ourselves
- Build broader perspectives about the world and those around us
- Make democratic decisions
- Create a solid conscious mental structure to support unbiased decision making
To make sure that your workplace is a safe space for everyone, you can regularly conduct trainings to educate and sensitize employees and managers. For example, a PoSH training (prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace) could help people understand the kind of actions that are harmful and illegal. This could even be followed by putting up PoSH posters around your company and forming an internal PoSH committee at work. These simple steps will help keep everyone accountable for what they say and do, thus actively countering their unconscious biases.
So how are you planning to work on reducing the unconscious biases at your workplace? Our biases may sometimes be hard to detect, but remember that if we work together, it’s possible to do better by everyone around us
Authored By Vandana D Vale
Ms. Vandana is a Government certified PoSH Trainer and Facilitator and has over 25 years of experience in training and facilitating professionals and students with knowledge sessions on POSH, D&I & Design thinking. She also has been working with Leaders in the corporate sector on mentoring, coaching and fostering captivating leadership and behavioral skills.
Ms. Vandana is a part of our PAN India Network of experts on Workplace Laws and ethics. To conduct a training at your workplace, write to up at firstname.lastname@example.org.