Are your employees silent whenever you invite them to contribute ideas? Ever wonder if there might be a hidden goldmine of talent if only they would stand up and speak? The problem could be the effects of unconscious bias in the workplace.

Unconscious bias is the brain’s way of taking shortcuts as it processes over 40 pieces of information per second. Because it is happening on an implicit, or unconscious, level, most people don’t even recognise that it’s there.

There are many different forms of unconscious bias: ranging from preferring certain names to associating job positions with gender. A common example of unconscious bias is the assertive employee. Assertiveness in a man is often interpreted as confident. In a woman, it can appear aggressive.

It can seem innocuous, but in fact, unconscious bias takes a very detrimental toll on employees and the company.

Employees may withdraw, not feeling safe enough to contribute to ideas. Companies may suffer higher turnover rates than necessary. Morale goes down, the company culture suffers and recruitment and retention are hurt in the process.

However, the good news is, you can tackle unconscious bias on a systems level. This is no replacement for educating leaders on addressing their own, personal biases. These changes in your company’s processes can eliminate the damage done by unconscious bias before it even begins.

 

Recruitment

Unconscious bias can show up from an employee’s very first touchpoint with your company. For example, if you’re hiring for a receptionist and you frame it as a position for a woman, you’re not only excluding men from applying. You are also validating the bias of “women’s work” in the office.

It’s important to regularly review your recruitment practices and your job descriptions to exclude biases like this.

Other ways you can eliminate unconscious bias in your recruitment practices are:

  • Have anonymous CVs and applications
  • Use a diverse recruitment committee
  • Create neutral job descriptions
  • Consistently use standardised tools and procedures

 

Performance evaluations

Performance evaluations should be standardised and based on neutral job descriptions. You may even have job performance checklists.

Each job should have a documented purpose and salary range. This way, evaluations can be based on neutral policy. Give pay rises on merit, not on the basis “he’s a good guy”.

Again, using a diverse committee rather than one leader to evaluate performance can help reduce bias in the process. A calibration process ensures this consistent and fair approach.

 

Career development

Keep in mind that different groups of people may have different needs. For instance, women have traditionally been kept at a lower salary than men. As a result, they may have withdrawn or isolated themselves from opportunities in the workplace.

In cases like this, it’s important to extend opportunities for development and advancement. Let them know that they are part of the organisation. They are included.

Also keep in mind the different communication needs of different people in order to make sure they experience equal opportunity.

Review regularly

View your company’s equal opportunity policies as a work in progress. Thus, HR leaders should review and update the policies at least once per year or more often, if business conditions are changing.

If your company could use assistance in evaluating and updating your policies, reach out to us for a consultation.