Even almost a hundred years after the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., racial divides and discrimination remains a reality in nearly every sphere of our lives, including the workplace. Unfortunately, a lot of discrimination and micro-aggression in workplaces are driven by unconscious bias among leaders, managers, and employees. In this article, we will discuss strategies to tackle and prevent unconscious bias – read on.
What is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?
Unconscious or implicit relates to attitudes and opinions that are triggered spontaneously and unconsciously. These biases vary from thoughts and beliefs that individuals recognize they possess but prefer to conceal in order to adhere to social or legal standards.
Our social prejudices are formed unconsciously by our experiences. For instance, when we have regularly been exposed to real occurrences or media depictions of women as cooperative, caring homemakers and men as forceful, competitive breadwinners, our long-term memory automatizes these connections.
These prejudices are reinforced every day without our knowledge or deliberate consideration. In reality, managers and workers might maintain unconscious preconceptions that they consciously reject!
When we make judgments about who gets a job, who gets reprimanded or rewarded, who we want to nurture, and who we regard as a confidant or a potential mentee, or whose ideas we evaluate, — we may add our own subconscious and emotional criteria. Criteria that we might not even be conscious of and that have no factual basis.
Additionally, bias may lead to hostile work environments, bullying, and discrimination. Unconscious bias in hiring, screening, promotion, development, and everyday workplace interactions restricts the strategic potential of a diverse workforce in terms of enhanced problem-solving as well as decision-making. It also hinders creativity and innovation, restricts access to diverse suppliers and clients, and reduces a company’s ability to attract and empower top global talent.
Understanding the Importance of Unconscious Bias Training
Training on unconscious bias helps individuals recognize the existence of unconscious prejudice and minimizes the possibility that it will influence their judgment.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that training increases awareness of the existence of unconscious bias. Employees will understand that labels and stereotypes may impact their attitudes and behavior even when they are unaware of their effects.
Raising awareness is crucial in the fight against unconscious bias. When workers recognize their hidden biases, they are more inclined to revisit their decision-making processes. This enables their more rational mind to make judgments, rather than their gut feeling, which is susceptible to prejudice.
A well-designed training program intends to assist individuals in developing meta-cognition (one’s ability to reflect on their own thoughts). When they are able to do so, they will be better able to recognize and question their own prejudices. Thus, workers will be able to contribute towards inclusiveness by becoming more conscious of their own implicit prejudices and making efforts to decrease their effects on others.
Your unconscious bias training program should have four characteristics to be truly effective:
- Blameless: Employees should not be lectured during training. Training on unconscious bias should encourage dialogue and encourage workers to address their own prejudices; it should not include criticizing and humiliating individuals.
- Empathetic: Training should not suggest that individuals are consciously racist, sexist, or biased in other ways. By their very nature, these prejudices are unconscious and unintended.
- Informative: Anyone can be both a perpetrator and a victim of prejudice, and this should be emphasized throughout training. The basis of prejudices extends beyond an individual’s protected characteristics. Regardless of a worker’s protected characteristics, like race, gender, handicap, or age, they may also be subject to prejudice based on size, obesity, and appearance. It is essential to educate employees about the many prejudices they may possess and how to counteract them.
- Actionable: The training should also give employees concrete initiatives they may take to establish more inclusive workplaces. These steps involve avoiding stereotypes and overgeneralizations, challenging instinctive assumptions, and creating ground rules to ensure that all opinions are heard.
Unconscious Bias Training Activities to Adopt in 2023
Unconscious bias training can take place in a variety of formats, from one-off classroom activities to online learning and long-term refresher courses. Generally, a combination of all three is advisable to keep the issue fresh and vital in employees’ minds, while furnishing them with the necessary information to tackle bias.
If you are interested in adopting unconscious bias training in 2023, here are a few activities you can explore:
1. Implicit Association Tests
The Implicit Associations Test (IAT) was created by Tony Greenwald, a professor at the University of Washington who began researching unconscious bias in 1994. The five-minute exam reveals our prejudices about gender, religion, color, and sexual orientation, among others. Therefore, organizations must prepare employees for the reality that around 75% of individuals who have completed the race IAT demonstrate prejudice.
2. Tag team formation
In this activity, participants adhere badges of various sizes and colors midway between their waist and neck. The participants are then told to create silent groups. There are no guidelines about the requirements for group formation. After forming groups, members are asked to disband and establish new ones. This occurs a minimum of four times.
Rarely do participants look beyond their badges, and even less often do they purposefully construct diverse groupings in which a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors are represented.
This engaging but non-confrontational exercise facilitates a conversation regarding social categorization mechanisms, the automaticity of “we” vs. “them” categorizations, and group prejudice (also called affinity bias). Additionally, it is a fantastic activity for introducing the idea of diversity and the possible advantages of varied workgroups.
3. Circle of trust exercises
The Circle of Trust is an effective exercise for demonstrating affinity bias. In this activity, participants are encouraged to list the initials of six to ten non-family members they trust the most in a column on the left-hand side of an empty sheet of paper.
The facilitator then reads a list of diversity dimensions, such as gender, ethnicity, native language, way of speaking, age, racial group, professional experience, religion, etc., and instructs participants to place a checkmark next to the representatives of their trusted circle who share a similar characteristic.
For instance, male participants will put a checkmark next to all men in their preferred six, white respondents would place a checkmark next to all white persons, etc. The majority of participants’ inner circle consists of individuals with similar backgrounds to themselves.
The participants are then invited to examine the working consequences. To whom, for instance, do leaders delegate a prominent piece of work while they are in a position of authority?
4. Positive interaction role play
Research indicates that imagining a certain circumstance might have the same behavioral and psychological impacts as actually experiencing it. In addition, research on the brain reveals that mental imagery influences various cognitive functions, such as attention, perception, planning, and memory. This implies that imagery may be used to train the brain for action. What should you be imagining? For instance, you may see yourself participating in a positive and productive session with team members of a different race, age, or gender.
Tackling Unconscious Bias with HR Tech
In addition to training, there are several proactive measures you can implement to curb the effects of unconscious bias in the workplace, and technology plays a huge role in this regard.
- Recruitment tech: Applicant management systems (ATS) and candidate experience management systems make it easier to hire outside one’s own network. Managers can reach out to and engage with candidates from a variety of backgrounds and even implement affirmative action policies.
- Payroll audits: These are data intelligence solutions that look for wage gaps across gender and racial lines. They can reveal trends that you can urgently address through wage adjustments and salary transparency at the time of hiring.
- Employee social networks: Employee engagement platforms can create social-media-like digital spaces where everyone can interact, without demographic divides. It creates a deeper sense of comradery and prevents closed groups or cliques from forming in the workplace.
- People analytics: This is an emerging field of technology that can break down the demographic intricacies of a workforce and their unique experiences. It can reveal correlations between demographic groups and variables like engagement, development, turnover, etc.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people should reflect on the principles of social equality, how it influences people’s lives, and how workplace discrimination can also affect your business. The workplace is one of the key places to initiate positive social change, and tackling unconscious bias is central to this process. And that, in many ways, will continue to expand and reinforce King’s “dream” of a united and syncretic world.