Unconscious bias refers to attitudes and beliefs we hold towards particular social or cultural groups that occur outside of conscious awareness and influence our responses.
Unconscious bias in recruitment, selection, promotion, development, and everyday workplace interaction limits the potential that can flow from a diverse workforce for higher quality problem solving and decision-making, innovation and creativity, accessing diverse customers and suppliers, and attracting and energising top global talent.
Reducing unconscious bias at work is a critical component of an organisation’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive work setting in which all employees contribute fully to work processes.
The Case For Diversity
An increasing body of evidence shows a statistically significant relationship between the financial performance of a company and the extent of diversity in its leadership team.
With a greater focus on the strategic value of workforce diversity, organisations across all industries are setting more aggressive diversity targets and ramping up their diversity efforts. 86% of companies globally engage in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Organisations make significant investments in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. Market leaders extend their diversity efforts outwards, building diverse stakeholder networks. Reflecting its strategic value, accountability for diversity management often sits with the C-suite and board of directors.
Despite those efforts, many organisations fail to achieve their diversity goals. Leaders struggle to create the inclusive work environments necessary to attract, retain and promote diverse employees and unlock the potential value in a diverse workforce.
Many global organisations openly claim that the profile and demographics of their entry-level population are a direct reflection of their desire to cultivate diversity. As we know, this mix diminishes greatly over time, often after just a few years. Leadership teams are largely homogenous. Despite significant investment in anti-discrimination training, workplace inequality persists.
The serious discrimination is implicit, subtle and universal. (New York Times, 2013).
Explaining Workplace Inequality
More recently, leading organisations have turned to behavioural science for solutions to solve workplace inequality. Drawing from 30 years of findings from neurology and social and cognitive psychology we now know that while overt discrimination in the workplace remains a concern, the cause of workplace inequality does not rest solely with blatantly prejudiced individuals but that even well-intentioned people can hold biases that influence their judgment and treatment of others in ways in which they are unaware and most likely would deny.
We know now that the hidden biases of well-intentioned people play a major role in workplace inequality and that fostering fairer workplace is not only about weeding out or ‘fixing’ the bad apples, but involves educating the wider workforce about how our subconscious might be contributing to unfair work practices, even when our conscious intentions are to be fair and inclusive.
Implicit or unconscious bias refers to the beliefs or attitudes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from explicit biases that individuals are aware they hold but may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. The implicit associations we hold outside of conscious awareness do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse. We can simultaneously hold explicit opposing beliefs and attitudes. It is possible for us to treat others unfairly even when we believe it is wrong to do so.
The Merit Trap
The existence of our implicit or hidden biases means that we often make decisions that we believe are consistent with our conscious intentions, but in fact, our unconscious is driving our responses.
Cognitive neuroscience research has taught us that most decisions we make, especially regarding people, are “alarmingly contaminated” by our biases. Our assessments of others are never as objective as we believe them to be.
Bias & The Employee Life Cycle
Unconscious bias at work has profound implications—when we make decisions on who gets a job, who gets disciplined or promoted, who we chose to develop, or who we see as a confidant or as a suitable mentee, whose ideas we give consideration to, we may be adding our own subliminal and emotional criteria to that decision. Criteria we might not even be aware of and which may have no basis in facts.
Bias can also contribute to hostile workplaces, bullying, and discrimination.
An inclusive culture is an environment where all employees;
- feel respected
- experience a sense of belonging
- are empowered
- are able to achieve their full potential
Research indicates that firms with inclusive cultures are better able to attract and engage top talent; expand into new markets and grow market share in existing markets; innovate; engage in creative problem-solving and optimal decision-making.
Addressing unconscious bias at work is problematic because, by its definition, an individual will most likely be unaware of its influence. Research shows, however, that with awareness and effort, individuals who are motivated to be unprejudiced can engage controlled mental processes to overcome their automatic tendencies.
Even individuals who truly believe they are non-prejudiced hold unconscious biases. Studies show that racism and sexism manifest as prejudiced attitudes and behaviours in individuals who explicitly endorse egalitarian values, particularly when there is not enough time to regulate responses or when it can be justified on nondiscriminatory grounds.
SPACE2 Model for Mindful Inclusion
The SPACE2 Model of Bias Mitigation prompts participants to engage in six proven techniques for managing conscious and unconscious bias.
Being mindful and considered in your responses to others.
Actively imagining the thoughts and feelings of others.
Active self-questioning to challenge your assumptions.
Making culturally appropriate attributions.
Identifying counter-stereotypical exemplars.
Actively nurturing diverse networks and forming friendships with people with different backgrounds to your own.
Unconscious bias training seeks to motivate employees to engage controlled mental processes to override their automatic tendencies and transfers proven skills for monitoring and overriding bias and creating inclusive workplaces.
Workshop participants also learn when they are most susceptible to unconscious bias as well as proven techniques for overriding ingrained bias and monitoring and adjusting their automatic responses in the workplace.
Our unconscious bias workshops are structured within an AIM framework – Awareness, Intent & Mitigate – to address the three outcomes of effective learning interventions; transfer of knowledge, attitudes, and skills.
Increasing participants’ knowledge of the nature and origin of unconscious bias.
Explicit vs. Implicit bias
Social Categorisation (Ingroup/Affinity Bias, Group/Role Stereotypes)
Automatic and Controlled Processing
Bias Pressure Points (e.g. Rushed, Multitasking, Ambiguity, Low Self-Esteem)
Microbiases (e.g. Body Language)
Fostering participants’ commitment to responding fairly by highlighting the business case for diversity and inclusion and providing evidence of one’s own biases and implications for work settings.
- Awareness of One’s Own and Others’ Bias
- Business Case for Diversity
- Diversity Dimensions & Diversity of Thought
- Challenges Managing Diversity
- Defining Inclusion
- The Stubborn Nature of Bias (e.g. Denial, Biased Attributions, Confirmation Bias, Stereotype Threat, Internalised Bias)
Evidence-based techniques for managing one’s own and other’s biases.
- The SPACE2 Model of Mindful Inclusion
- Slow Down
- Perspective Taking
- Challenge Assumptions
- Cultural Intelligence
- Responding to Bias in Others
As required, workshops can be tailored to meet the different needs of leaders, people managers and individual contributors.
Minimal decision-making influence on employee life cycle. Focus on mindful responding and inclusive groupwork.
- Monitoring & Managing Microbiases
- Inclusive Group Work
- Fostering Intergroup Networks and Friendships
- Strategies for Responding When Noticing Bias in Others
- Recognising and Avoiding Pressure Points
High level of decision-making influence across the employee life cycle. Additional focus areas to address higher-stake decision-making and fostering inclusive work settings.
Bias and the Employee Life Cycle (Recruitment, Selection, Pay, Group Dynamics, Performance Feedback & Development, Promotion)
- The Merit Trap
Hiring for Cultural Fit
Covering and Personal and Organisational Outcomes
Recognising and Avoiding Pressure Points
- Best Practices for Managing Diverse Teams and Fostering Inclusive Work Settings
Respect for and willingness to embrace individual differences and diverse perspectives
Appreciation of the value of the contributions of all employees
Techniques for eliciting and integrating diversity of thought and fostering a collaborative culture
Willingness and ability to flex management style
An understanding of the nature, origin, and consequences of cognitive blindspots and bias
Techniques to manage bias in oneself and others
Workshop participants leave with a personalised action plan for managing their own and others’ unconscious bias.
Consistent with research on adult learning, we believe that the best learning outcomes result when participants engage holistically with program content. All Include-Empower learning and development programs incorporate experiential learning techniques, including opportunities to reflect on and apply learnings to the real-life challenges facing participants.
Individual contributors and people managers working in diverse settings.
Recommended workshop size is 10-24 participants.
The program may be run as a full or half-day.