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How to avoid unconscious bias in the workplace

Have you ever found yourself hiring or rejecting a candidate based on your “gut feeling”? Or even telling them outright that you don’t think they were a “right fit” for the organisation? While there’s nothing wrong with following your gut feeling or cultivating an organisational culture, things can get a bit trickier if unconscious bias was at play. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we’ll tell you what is unconscious bias, why it matters and most importantly, what you can do about it in the workplace.

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What is unconscious bias? 

Let’s say you hired a candidate who has the same background as you, rather than the candidate who is objectively the most qualified for the role. That’s an example of unconscious bias. Put simply, unconscious bias refers to hidden beliefs that can impact your perception of other people or other groups of people. Think of them as snap judgments based on your personal preference, rather than decisions based on rational details. Consider the following quote by Veronica Roth in her novel Allegiant:

“But I think that no matter how smart, people usually see what they’re already looking for, that’s all.”

Acknowledge unconscious bias

Try this test by Harvard University to check whether you have biases related to things like race, religion, sexuality, gender and more. If you do have any unconscious biases (and most of us do), it’s crucial to remind yourself that this doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s only natural for you to have them because people are hardwired to show a preference for things that resemble themselves. What makes unconscious biases truly problematic is when there’s a lack of understanding of how they influence one’s decision making and the impact they have on others. 

Once you’ve taken the test, reflect on the results and assess whether they’re accurate. Do you think you’re showing preference for certain people or groups of people over others? How has this affected your decision making in the workplace? Does it affect who you hire, promote or who you get on with more easily? What about whose opinions typically influence your decisions? Only once we start acknowledging and reflecting on our biases can we explore and address their impacts moving forward. 

Recognise the impact of unconscious bias

So, why does unconscious bias even matter? To start off with, it stereotypes people, puts them in boxes and makes them feel judged. This is bad from a fairness point of view. Think of the reverse: How would you feel if you were denied an opportunity purely because of how you look, what religion you practice or other arbitrary factor? In addition to this, unconscious bias can also have negative impacts in the workplace related to:

  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Low morale for those who suspect they’re on the receiving end of negative unconscious biases
  • Greater likelihood of discrimination complaints

Let’s dig deeper into the impacts of unconscious bias on talent acquisition, and diversity and inclusivity:

Talent acquisition:

Firstly, if unconscious bias gets in the way of hiring then your organisation will miss out on talented employees. As human resource is the backbone of any successful organisation, this means that unconscious bias could mean things like fewer innovations, poorer marketing efforts, declining profits and more. 

Diversity and inclusivity:

Secondly, an organisation where unconscious bias is rife can also quickly lead to teams that are less diverse – either through hiring practices or employees leaving because they don’t feel like they belong. This could potentially create an environment that’s not conducive to new and fresh ideas from multiple perspectives, and lead to a stagnant organisation. 

If you’d like to learn more about the difference between diversity and inclusivity, why it matters and how to prioritise it in the workplace, check out these slides: 

Avoid unconscious bias

If you’ve identified an unconscious bias that you may have, say towards people from a minority background, make a conscious effort to learn more about that group. Get behind what it is that makes you uncomfortable, why that might be the case and go through it rationally. Perhaps it’s the news? Your upbringing? A past experience? Next time you’re confronted with someone from that group, remind yourself of your internal dialogue. What’s more, you can also increase your understanding of that particular group by embracing and immersing yourself in their culture. 

When you find yourself making important decisions, make sure you consult others from different backgrounds. This helps you broaden your viewpoint and take into account any unconscious biases you may have. Likewise, if you have a colleague who you suspect has unconscious biases in their interaction with others or decision making, you can also engage with them to help them understand, identify and address their unconscious biases. 

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For companies who want to actively prevent unconscious bias in the workplace, hire the best candidates and benefit from a diverse and inclusive workforce, a robust employee benefits program can’t be overlooked. As a global health insurance brokerage and employee benefits specialist, Pacific Prime UK helps companies of all sizes and industries design, implement and optimise their corporate health insurance and employee benefits program using a tailored, technology-driven approach.

Short of employee benefits ideas for your workforce? Or have any other employee benefits-related questions? Arrange a FREE consultation with our corporate team today!

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime UK
Suphanida aims to demystify the world of insurance by creating informative and engaging content. As a wordsmith, she spends the majority of her day writing and editing website content, blog posts, in-depth guides, and more.

Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys travelling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.