Whilst the uptake of inclusivity policies is increasing and workplaces are becoming more diverse, it is important to not only look at the structures in which people operate, but also within the individuals themselves. Without spending time educating individuals about their own beliefs, any changes you make in structures and policies will not be full embedded for the future as individuals will not see how their own beliefs fit into the wider picture or the importance of their own actions to the working environment of others.
Of course, combating conscious biases is arguably much easier as employees who exhibit these behaviours can be reprimanded and disciplined for their actions however trying to tackle unconscious biases is much more difficult. More often than not, those who hold unconscious biases are unaware of these beliefs and the judgements they make are often made instantaneously, which can make it much more difficult for these to be unravelled. These can include beauty biases, an affinity bias, conformity bias or a halo effect; all of these beliefs are often grounded in an individual’s past experiences, culture, background or childhood, even further heightening their ingrained nature. So, is there a best way to go about lessening the impact of these from the workplace?
Unconscious bias training
To unpick unconscious biases many businesses, choose to put their employees through unconscious bias training to raise their awareness. Whilst this is a great starting place for raising the awareness of employees, it cannot be used as a stand-alone activity. More often than not employees who participate in a ‘one and done’ activity of unconscious bias training will completely forget about the training as soon as it’s completed which means that any intended change is unlikely to be embedded into the company culture. Instead unconscious bias training should be woven into the overarching inclusion strategy and continually followed up so that behaviours and ideas can be ingrained. Not only to increase its likelihood of success, but also because more employees are likely to take notice if they clearly understand where this training fits into a wider program.
It impacts all areas
Similarly, another common approach is for businesses to solely look at unconscious biases that manifest in one area of the business, typically recruitment. It is natural to form opinions on someone as soon as we see them however it is important that these do not impact upon the decisions that are later made. In the interview scenario in particular, unconscious biases can cause interviewers to make snap judgements about a candidate without considering how they could be accommodated within the organisation. Instead, make adequate time with members of all areas of the business to take stock of where you are already on your inclusivity journey. It may surprise you that some of the areas you may never have considered actually harbour the most unconscious bias such as decision making, talent planning, and reward decisions to name but a few.
Trying to approach those with unconscious biases can be incredibly tricky. Even those who believe that they are completely attuned to their thoughts and beliefs can have a lapse in their judgement or be completely unaware of the implications of some of their thoughts and actions. However, it is vital that they are made aware of their actions. This is not to say you challenge them in a hostile way. As previously discussed, they are probably completely unaware of the bias, but instead frame the discussion around the effects of the beliefs they hold and how they are not grounded in fact.
One way to educate and share experiences of difference in the workplace could be through team lunches. In this informal setting, individuals often feel more relaxed and able to share their experiences along with the sharing of food. When people learn about the experiences of others, the unconscious biases will begin to surface but also dissolve as people form meaningful relationships with others they may have never previously encountered. In addition, you could reach out to your local community and charities inviting them to educate others on the work they do and the impact this has. In return you could begin to implement a volunteering scheme which involves understanding the challenges of other communities and help them to work towards solutions. This can also bring business benefits as these links can help build a positive brand and demonstrate to future employees and customers you are passionate about raising your inclusivity.
Unconscious biases are difficult to remove from the workplace, however this should not deter businesses from tackling them, as raising awareness is an important step in the inclusivity journey. Whilst some people may not want to acknowledge they do hold some unconscious biases, it is only when they are recognised, everyone is educated on their impact and this education is woven into all areas of the inclusivity journey that the effects of these can begin to be lessened.