Tackling discrimination in the workplace is one of the trickier responsibilities for anyone in HR and L&D. Naturally, people can be a little defensive if they feel they’re being accused of something quite serious — and that wall of defence is all the more common when we’re talking about something that they’re not even aware they’re doing.
Like it says on the tin, unconscious biases are exactly that: unconscious. It’s not like any of your colleagues are trying to be discriminatory (we hope so, anyway), but everyone has preconceptions that influence how they behave. Unravelling those is a tough job, both because of how hard it can be for people to admit they have them and because of how long it can take to unlearn certain behaviours.
No one wants to be singled out, which is why it’s crucial to create an environment at work where conversations around unconscious bias can be had without judgement, and where people can feel comfortable and safe. This helps protect the team members on the receiving end and gives everyone a space to reflect on their behaviour without feeling pressured.
In this blog, we’ll go over what you need to know about unconscious bias in the workplace and how you can best reduce it in your own.
Suggested reading: If you want to learn more about Video Arts’ approach to employee development, check out our eBook — Connectors of People.
Acknowledge your own biases
The first step towards reducing unconscious bias amongst your employees is acknowledging the biases you possess yourself. Once you’ve done that, you’re in a much better position to both take stock of where you can improve and then go about educating your wider team on what these biases look like.
After all, they can manifest in a whole host of different ways — confirmation bias, affinity bias, gender bias, and the halo effect to name a few — and the best way of telling whether your team is exhibiting any of them is by taking stock of your own behaviours first.
We should clarify that it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad manager to have biases, as it’s actually pretty normal to have them. What will set you apart as a great manager is actively working on unlearning and overcoming said biases.
While learning more about workplace discrimination and keeping a keen eye out for it appearing in your own office are top of the list, training content like Video Arts’ can make the task a whole lot easier.
By seeing precisely what not to do played out over video, you stand a better chance of identifying instances of unconscious bias when they arise in your workplace, and knowing how to tackle this – especially when you may be playing a part in them yourself.
Rethink how you form your social circles
As we said, there’s unfortunately quite a variety of biases that stand to be looked out for in the workplace. But one we want to zoom on here is affinity bias: where you gravitate towards people with similar attributes to you. This tends to happen a lot in the hiring process, especially when you’re trying to look for someone who “fits the company culture” — a fair enough sentiment that often gets misinterpreted as “person that is similar to me.”
This has layered consequences — not only are you missing out on building a truly diverse team, but you could also be inadvertently alienating your existing team members.
A great way to naturally reduce unconscious affinity bias is by taking a step back and reassessing your social circles. Here’s why:
- Interacting with people from a wide range of backgrounds is more likely to help you develop a more open-minded approach to experiences that are different to your own.
- You’ll be able to better devise the right opportunities for your team to interact and engage with each other in order to find common ground.
- Company productivity will see an inevitable boost.
We have the science to back up that last point. Studies show that having more women, people of colour, and people with disabilities in your team brings a wider range of qualified viewpoints to the table and results in more creative ideas.
The company that puts emphasis on diversity and inclusion in their work environment will be the company that succeeds — companies with more diversity both out-innovate and out-perform others.
Encourage open communication
One of the most important aspects of undoing unconscious biases is realising that, while other people may have different backgrounds and experiences from yours, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have anything in common.
For example, you might believe that someone of another race wouldn’t be able to relate to most, if not all, of your life experiences — when in reality you share a hell of a lot more than you think. That could be anything from interests and hobbies to family life and relationships. At the risk of sounding like we’ve lifted our words straight from a motivational calendar, the human experience is one shared by all of us.
Unconscious bias also rears its head in ways you might not expect, such as with periods and menopause. It’s unfortunately all too common for women to be disregarded for senior management roles as it’s believed that menopause would get in the way of performing their professional duties. Similarly, women who express themselves passionately about a project or topic can often be written off as “moody” because they’re on their period, and their opinion is discarded.
Unless workplaces want scenarios like the above to both negatively impact their employee sentiment and business performance, there’s a collective responsibility for all managers to:
- Develop a positive attitude towards learning and undoing these biases so that you can adequately support your team in removing the stigma around sensitive topics.
- Foster a culture of equity where, for example, women can work from home or take breaks, have access to menstrual products, and have comfortable uniforms.
- Ultimately, encourage lines of open communication so that team members know how best to support one another.
By properly communicating with your team, you’ll discover new ways to relate to each other and will be able to bridge any gaps that might have formed. You also show your team that you value them and want to better understand their needs, which massively improves job satisfaction and makes for a more productive, tighter-knit organisation.
You can take that first step to improved communication by encouraging workplace training, but there are loads of quick wins you can get started with, like:
- Offering more regular 1:1s with your team members.
- Setting aside a scheduled time every week for open hours in your office.
- Or even something as simple as following up meetings with clear notes and expectations of what people need to do.
And when you come to investing in training, ensuring it’s delivered using the right kind of humour takes some of the pressure off, while also getting the point across in a clear, concise manner…but, of course, we’re very consciously biased on that one ;).
Learning to unlearn your biases
Unlearning your biases is an ongoing process, and it’s made a lot easier by having learning content designed to support that. Video Arts’ Unconscious Bias and Diversity collection enables you to learn how best to interact with a diverse group of people, and encourage that behaviour within your team as well.
After all, we have decades’ worth of expertise in creating effective, informative, and humorous (yes, it’s possible) training content for workplaces that want to see more engaged learners and better outcomes. We’re dedicated to helping managers enable and encourage more positive workplaces and improve their company reputations.
Ready to start unlearning? Book a trial today.
¹ How Diversity Can Drive Innovation
² Manchester Metropolitan University – Generating Routes for Women’s Leadership Project: Valuing Mid-Life Women Leaders