Spotlight on 5 Steps to Overcome Unconscious Bias

Spotlight on 5 Steps to Overcome Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is one hurdle that entrepreneurs may face as they build a company. We all have unconscious biases. They live in our subconscious, making it difficult to properly confront them. Only by accepting the fact that everyone has biases can you start to examine your own more critically and begin making moves that will reduce their impact on the decisions that you make.

In the workplace, our unconscious bias can affect everything from who we hire to how creatively we address problems, which can inhibit the growth of an organization. This makes it all the more important to address this problem proactively in a corporate setting. Some key tips for confronting unconscious bias include:

1. Call out the biases you notice.

Since people are generally unaware of their unconscious biases, it is important to call it out when you notice it. Consider the different ways in which bias can drive business decisions. Researchers from the Australian National University found that job-seekers with names that sound Arabic or Chinese need to submit over 60 percent more applications to get a response from employers than those whose names sound Anglo.

You shouldn’t let bias go unchecked when you see it. You do not need to be aggressive about calling out bias, but do question why people make decisions and what assumptions are driving them. By simply highlighting its existence, you will create a more open environment in your company. It sets a precedent for those around you to call out the biases they notice and encourages everyone to have a meaningful conversation about the topic. Ultimately, the people around you should also question your decisions if they sense bias. This will help you become more aware of them and ensure that they do not influence your own actions.

2. Examine the company culture.

Often, our unconscious biases can become apparent in the culture that we create at work. Think critically about the culture you have fostered and whether or not it is inclusive and welcoming for everyone. You can even ask for feedback from your employees. Providing an anonymous way of giving this feedback will encourage people to be open and honest about their experiences with bias. You may be surprised by how some people at your organization feel, but it is important not to be reactive when looking to address their concerns. Take their feedback seriously and ask yourself what it is about your internal processes that allowed for the development of such an environment. Giving people the opportunity to share their input shows that you really do care about creating a supportive culture. Moreover, you will give your team the opportunity to take part in positive, long-term change within your company.

3. Take a personal inventory.

The process of minimizing the impact of unconscious bias in an organization must begin with you. To effectively influence change, you must do some serious soul-searching and work on moving beyond your own biases. Become more mindful of your own actions and never be afraid to question yourself. This can take some time, so be patient as you navigate this process.

Think about setting aside some time each week to really reflect on your actions and the biases that may have motivated them. Only by doing so can you properly address your habits and develop new and more inclusive ones. You should also take some time to think about how much you know about cultures beyond your own. Being conscious about exposing yourself to other ways of thinking will be crucial in overcoming bias. If you find your knowledge lacking, then you should start by exploring media that you may not have otherwise consumed. This will challenge you to think differently and to begin looking at issues from a completely different point of view.

4. Look for opportunities to promote diversity.

You can find ample opportunities to change company processes and to cut down on the impact of unconscious bias. For example, when reviewing resumes for a new position, arrange to have someone eliminate any reference to gender, nationality, race, and other distinguishing features. To this end, you can judge people based on their accomplishments alone without letting other factors influence your decision.

With research continually showing how important diversity is in driving creativity and productivity, you should also think about creating policies that dictate who can hold certain jobs at your company. These policies will reduce bias by limiting how many people of a single gender or other demographic can hold similar positions, such as executive roles. This approach can help to limit the impact of bias while also promoting greater diversity at your organization.

5. Put your unconscious bias to the test.

Researchers have spent years studying unconscious bias and its impact on business. A coalition of scholars from Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia even created a test that can help people to learn more about their own biases. Known as the Implicit Association Test, this tool can help people to better understand the associations they make on a subconscious level and consider all the differences—such as gender, age, and race—that may create bias. By testing yourself, you may find that you have some biases that you did not even knowabout.

This tool can also be a great starting point for conversations in the office, especially if you ask several people to take it and to share their experiences. Discussing the process will make it easier to address bias in a constructive manner.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.