How to Detect and Defeat Unconscious Bias

Bias. The word elicits a multitude of negative associations, from prejudice to unfairness — none of which any company wants to have present in its workplace culture. And the one thing that can make bias even more concerning? The fact that it is often unconscious.

Unconscious bias may seep into language used to describe work performance Click To Tweet

How can unconscious bias be broken down? For unconscious bias to exist, two things must be true: 1) an individual holds prejudiced beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes, and 2) an individual is unaware of these prejudices. In psychological terms, this phrase is dubbed “implicit bias,” or any mindset that skews our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.

Unconscious biases have been cultivated through interactions and associations over the years to become deeply embedded within an individual’s belief system. They become almost impossible to notice and may even conflict with publicly-declared beliefs. Referred to as “second-generation discrimination,” unconscious bias may seep into language used to describe work performance or snap judgments made from resumes.

The reality is that everyone has unconscious biases. It’s become a water cooler phrase, thanks to the ongoing work leaders such as Laszlo Bock of Google and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, who frequently and publicly denounce the unconscious bias and promote ways to counter it. The existence of unmanaged unconscious biases at work have caused organizations serious problems — from talent flight to lawsuits. Here are three important techniques for detecting unconscious bias within yourself and your workforce:

1. Become Aware of the Many Forms of Bias

Familiarize yourself with variations of unconscious bias; after all, awareness stems first from knowledge and understanding. There are four common types of bias: performance, performance attribution, maternal and competence or likability.

By educating and arming yourself with knowledge about what types of biases exist, you can become better prepared to detect and flag it in yourself and with others.

For example, in performance bias, research by Facebook shows that relative to females, male performance is often overestimated. When it comes to performance attribution, the bias then extends to success of males being attributed to skills whereas that of females being attributed to diligence. By educating and arming yourself with knowledge about what types of biases exist, you can become better prepared to detect and flag it in yourself and with others.

2. Systematically Integrate Into Performance Reviews

Consistently catching unconscious biases can be difficult, especially because they are so deeply ingrained in our psyche. By creating systems to help remind and flag individuals about unconscious biases, you can create a safeguard against letting them slip by.

One simple way to help reinforce the detection of unconscious biases is by adding a note to the top of a performance review form. This reminds individuals to be vigilant of their own gender and racial biases before they start the performance review. New technologies such as Reflektive integrate directly into existing workflows to make the shift to a culture of awareness and measurement seamless.

3. Set Specific and Public Company Diversity Goals

A pioneer in advancing diversity in technology, Pinterest has announced specific goals for increasing diversity across departments within the company: Increase hiring rates for non-engineering roles to 12 percent underrepresented ethnic backgrounds (versus 7 percent currently). Implement a Rooney Rule-type requirement where at least one person from an underrepresented background and one female candidate is interviewed for every open leadership position.

Ongoing education can ensure greater diversity to simultaneously deliver business results Click To Tweet

By clearly defining what their goals are, Pinterest has set the bar for themselves and other companies for holding themselves accountable to greater diversity.

Through ongoing education and the implementation of systems to safeguard against unconscious bias, companies can ensure greater diversity in their workforce to simultaneously deliver business results and be leaders in equality.

Register now for our webinar, The Key to Reducing Unconscious Bias at Work with MEC’s head of global talent, Marie-Claire Barker, and Tanya M. Odom, Ed.M.

Strengthen your whole team with
Real-Time Feedback

Get Started Today