Be Conscious About Bias to Work Better

Our brain’s ability to make quick assumptions based on limited information is one of the marvels of our evolution. It helps us rapidly process information and protect ourselves in critical moments. We’re so used to relying on first impressions and stereotypes that we do it all the time, even in professional settings. We call this unconscious bias, and it shows up in the workplace in all sorts of ways, from interpersonal relationships to the way office temperatures are set. (Doubt that last one? Are you freezing in your office right now?)

Unconscious bias also influences how we think about our colleagues and our leaders, how we approach projects, and how we get and give opportunities.

Everyone’s Got Biases

Think you don’t have any biases? Check out our video to see if you’re right.

Don’t worry if you found you were more biased than you thought. We’re all somewhere on the scale. Situations involving bias occur around us every day, from microaggressions to much more serious incidents like the one just recently at Starbucks.

The Cost of Bias in the Workplace

Here’s another thought exercise: picture a genius. What image came to mind? For most people, it’s a white man. It’s not that all geniuses are white men (or that all white men are geniuses!) but instead the result of a quick mental shortcut.

Now think about who you’d like to hire next for your sales team. Is there a certain look or a certain background that you think is best? That’s the same sort of mental shortcut—and if you consistently use that as criteria when hiring, you’ll create a team of sameness.

Ample research shows that diverse teams are smarter, they make better decisions and they solve problems more effectively. On the flip side, research shows that teams that are racially homogeneous groups are less rigorous in their decision-making—and make more mistakes—than diverse ones.

Checking Our Biases

When we’re at work, we have to pause and make an extra effort to reconsider first impressions, assumptions, stereotypes and other mental shortcuts that we take throughout our busy days.

When we become aware of our biases, and take the time to correct them, it gives everyone a greater opportunity to learn, innovate and succeed.

How can we prevent making bias judgements about others?

  1. Make sure you have all the information before making a judgement
  2. Consult with others to get a different point of view
  3. Ask yourself why if you make a quick judgement
  4. Remember that everyone has bad days and personal problems
  5. Pause before you come to a conclusion

Interested in helping your organization manage its unconscious bias? Contact us to learn more about our Managing Unconscious Bias Program, or sign up for a free course trial and check it out first-hand.

Laraine McKinnon
Talent and Culture Strategist Women's Advocate Former Managing Director at BlackRock
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