Unconscious Bias and How to Beat It in 2022

August 3, 2022

Unconscious biases govern our lives. They’re accidental, unnoticed, and manifest in subtle ways as our brains try to simplify the world around us. And sometimes, these biases can create systemic issues in the workplace.

The facts

In a 2017 study titled “Disrupt Bias, Drive Value,” the Center for Talent and Innovation found that employees at large companies who perceive bias are more than four times as likely (33% to 8%) to feel regularly alienated at work. This alienation is costly, as inclusion has transformative effects on the workplace: BetterUp found that workplace belonging is correlated with a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in turnover risk.

Employees who perceive bias feel less attachment to their company. They are more than twice as likely (75% to 35%) to say they are not proud to work for their company, and more than three times more likely (31% to 10%) to say they’re planning on leaving their jobs within the year.

The varieties

Unconscious bias is easier to identify when broken down into categories. Here are just a few:

  • Similarity bias: we tend to prefer people who are similar to us. For example, Sarah’s hiring manager may unconsciously favor her because they went to the same college.
  • Expedience bias: our need for certainty causes us to rush judgment. If something sounds straightforward and reasonable, we assume that it’s true. For example, Sarah’s boss may rely on only one data point or notable interaction when reviewing her performance.
  • Confirmation bias. When we make a decision, we look for information that supports our beliefs and ignore information that disputes them. For example, if Sarah decides her co-worker is snobby, she may ignore instances of humble behavior, as they do not support her belief
  • Availability bias. When we make an evaluation, we rely on examples that readily come to mind. For example, if Sarah is normally polite but recently lashed out, her boss may only recall her rude actions when asked about her behavior and claim that she is a disrespectful person.
  • Halo effect. When we think highly of someone in one way, we tend to think they have other good features as well. For example, if Sarah thinks her co-worker is hardworking, she is also likely to think he is intelligent and efficient.

The remedies

A study by the NeuroLeadership Institute found that people like standard unconscious bias training. Its accomplishments are surface-level: it validates experiences, demonstrates that the company cares about inclusion, and raises awareness about bias. Below the surface, this sort of training has little influence. The changes that do happen are small and short-term.

Why? Because unconscious biases are exactly that — unconscious. We cannot change our behavior without realizing what we’re doing wrong.

But beyond exercising self-awareness, it is important to implement measures that limit your unconscious biases. Focusing on culture, establishing shared goals, and assembling groups with blended backgrounds can help you and your team identify and mitigate biases. Gathering data and candid input from your employees can also be useful.

Instill can help you conquer these biases by measuring respect, inclusion, burnout risk, trust, engagement, and psychological safety in your workplace. Click here to sign up for a demo toda

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