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Why it matters to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace

Why it matters to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace

We are all prone to unconscious bias in the workplace. Even if you don’t think you do, you do.

Having a workplace that includes a broad range of perspectives, backgrounds, and aspects of the human experience. That gives you access to a broader range of talent that can make your company a better place to work.

Unconscious bias is an inhibitor to creating that kind of diversity, and therefore access to talent and knowledge. I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion and I helped oversee many of the diversity and inclusivity initiatives that make Charlie what it is today.

I’d like to explore what unconscious bias is and how it manifests itself in the workplace, the challenges that it creates for the growth of a small business, and how we try to navigate those challenges at Charlie.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias is the set of pre-programmed beliefs and mental shortcuts that our brains use to make quick judgements about people, without being consciously aware that we’re making them. These biases are influenced by cultural and social norms, our own experiences, and cultural background.

Everyone has these kinds of unconscious biases. It’s a universal phenomenon rooted in human psychology, not a personal failing.

Common Types of Unconscious Bias

While these unconscious biases are common, if left unchecked they can do real harm to your workplace’s culture, and the decision-making of your leadership.

Several types of unconscious bias are commonly found in the workplace:

  • Affinity Bias: Our tendency to be more chummy with people who look and think like us: people with the same set of interests, experiences, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Confirmation Bias: Our habit of finding and holding onto information that confirms the beliefs and values we already have.
  • Gender Bias: The inclination to prefer one gender over another, such as when hiring for job roles or offering opportunities.
  • Age Bias: A bias for or against individuals based on their age, such as passing over elderly employees for a promotion.
  • Cultural Bias: A predisposition to have a better view of those who share our cultural background or values.

Unconscious bias rarely takes the form of overt prejudice or bigotry. More often it takes the form of microaggressions that create a hostile work environment, or cultural misunderstandings that create conflict between teams.

Having unchecked unconscious bias can also affect the validity of your performance reviews and feedback, which can hinder the growth of employees who deserve a better shot.

Overcoming Unconscious Bias Challenges in Small Businesses and Startups

Small business leaders are just as prone to these kinds of unconscious biases as anyone else. We’re only human, after all.

Not taking measures to address unconscious bias in the workplace presents some tricky problems for the culture and growth of a small business, such as these.

Resource Limitations

Small businesses often don’t have the resources to prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives when there are a million-and-one other things to focus on.

Addressing unconscious bias doesn’t always have to come with a price tag. Even just offering your team free or low-cost online resources and training materials to educate themselves is a step in the right direction.

Creating a Culture of Inclusivity

The interpersonal and team dynamics that make up a workplace culture are felt more keenly in a small business. That means that unconscious biases have a greater and more immediate effect than at a larger organisation where individual unconscious bias may be diluted.

Building a Diverse Team from the Ground Up

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace from the beginning helps to embed it into your company’s culture and DNA.

You can accomplish this as a small business leader if you reach out to diverse talent pools and implement DE&I interview questions and structures to help minimise bias. Prioritise it from the early stages of your team building.

How we tackle Unconscious Bias at Charlie

One of the things that makes Charlie a good place to work is that it creates a workplace where everyone feels valued, heard, and respected. This didn’t just happen, it’s the result of intentional decision-making and internal processes that account for unconscious bias.

Here are some of the initiatives and policies I’ve seen work for us when it comes to tackling unconscious bias.

Annual DE&I Audit

Every year, I and the other HR professionals at Charlie conduct a DE&I audit to evaluate our company policies and culture. That helps us point out areas for improvement and track our progress over time.

Pay, Bonus, and Performance Review Standards

Charlie reviews its pay scales and bonus allocations and tries to eliminate any disparities that can arise from unconscious bias. Merit and performance are the only things that should matter in a workplace setting.

Maximising Inclusion and Diversity in Every Process

We go through our hiring processes and make sure they’re designed to welcome and support a diverse, inclusive workforce where different perspectives are drawn from and used to their full potential.

Educating Our Team on Inclusive Language

We train our managers and leadership to evaluate their own potential unconscious bias and how it might impact their decision-making. This takes the form of interactive workshops and mock scenarios where they role-play situations where unconscious bias may influence them.

Blind CVs

Charlie uses blind CVs during the hiring process that have any personally identifiable information removed. That way hiring decisions only reflect the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

Celebrating Diversity Through Events

Another thing we do is observe public holidays and events like Pride Month and Black History Month. These allow us to educate ourselves reflect on how unconscious bias influences our thinking without our meaning to, and acknowledge the achievements of diverse cultures and identities in our team.

Checking for Bias in Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are scanned and edited to have biased language that would deter otherwise perfectly qualified candidates from applying. They focus on the essential skills and qualifications of the role, so they attract a broad range of applicants.

Undoing Unconscious Bias is a Work in Progress

Doing the work to dismantle unconscious bias in the workplace is a continual process that requires honest conversations, honest self-reflection, and intentional policy decisions. It can and should be done, however, to create a workplace culture where people are valued.

If you need some guidance on how to take the first steps towards managing unconscious bias in your small business, get in touch with an HR advisor at Charlie and we’ll be happy to help. 

Click here to book a call with one of our HR advisors

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