We all know that diversity and equality in business is not only an essential legal requirement, it’s better for business; but have you considered how hard it can be to truly set aside preconceptions and stereotypes? This is known as unconscious bias – we don’t deliberately judge people based on preconceived bias but it does happen, and it can cause problems.
As difficult as this may be to admit, we are all ‘unconsciously biased’ in respect of race, gender, age, social class, and more. We might already have made a snap judgement about the background of one of the recruitment candidates for instance and have 'decided' that Joe is simply not of the same social standing as Robert and is therefore not right for the post.
Unconscious Bias is a systematically-ingrained natural phenomenon, one embedded into our perception without our knowledge influenced by our previous experiences and constant media output. It is also one of the methods that our human brain uses to help filter the overwhelming information incoming from our fast-moving modern lives. Over time, our brains evolved to mentally group things together to help make sense of the world. Today, in order to save time and be prioritising successfully, we have a tendency to 'categorise' people using observed criteria to filter them - such as their age, skin colour, weight and gender. Furthermore, we subconsciously classify individuals by their educational background, their physical ability, their sexuality, regional language or accent, their social position and so on. In fact, if you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it! We subconsciously 'pigeon hole' individuals into groups, applying these presumed traits as we go.
Many international studies document how unconscious bias affects workplace decisions. For example, a study by Queensland University found that blond women’s salaries were 7 percent higher than women who were brunettes or redheads. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every 1 percent increase in a woman’s body mass, there was a 0.6 percent decrease in family income. A Duke University study found that “mature-faced” people had a career advantage over “baby-faced” people (people with large, round eyes, high eyebrows and a small chin). And a Yale University study found that male and female scientists—trained to reject the subjective—were more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency than women, and pay them $4,000 more per year than women.
Our UK research of unconscious bias is very much behind that of the rest of the world. However, some workplaces are taking the lead in ensuring that their practises are top notch. Lloyds Banking Group has been placed in the top 25 LinkedIn Companies list for 2018 best employers. Lloyds has a detailed inclusion and diversity strategy, which has helped the group gain a place on the Stonewall list for its inclusiveness of LGBT people, a gold standard from the Business Disability Forum for its approach to disability and a 2017 Top Employer award from workingmums.co.uk. Lloyds is an example of an encouraging trend that sees UK businesses increasing their investment in diversity. Glassdoor (an employer review site) surveyed 750 hiring decision-makers in the UK and US and found that employers are increasingly placing a higher value on diversity and inclusion programmes, with 59 percent reporting that a lack of investment in diversity and inclusion is a barrier to attracting high-quality candidates.
“Greater diversity in the workplace is a high priority effort for many businesses,” said Carmel Galvin, chief human resources officer at Glassdoor. “With increased investment in diversity and inclusion programmes, it signals that employers are recognising the value these efforts are having on recruiting and on financial performance.”
An individual manager might consider that this time-saving method can be justifiable in the workplace - as processing information about people in this way is 'efficient', leaving time and resources for other tasks - but the true outcome of this stereotypical reliance is far more serious. While you may, or may not, be aware of your own prejudices, they can have damaging consequences on the way you action your decisions upon the people that you manage. These very actions can stymie your workplace diversity, damage your recruiting and retention efforts, and unknowingly shape your working culture. Unconscious bias can skew talent and performance reviews; affect who is recruited, promoted, and supported - unwittingly undermining an organisation’s culture.
As employees start to feel the negative effects of perceived discrimination, their response to this bias can have serious consequences for the employer.
For instance, if a hard-working individual regularly perceives negative bias at their appraisal, he or she will likely experience an increased loss of trust, reduced morale and be more likely to leave their employment. The employer may see a reduction in employee performance as the individual becomes increasingly unmotivated and their self-esteem is reduced. The employees perception of management may also contribute to increased workplace tension or even absences from work.
Ultimately the unhappy employee may decide to leave your employ - citing discrimination as their reason for doing so.
It is extremely important that you, the employer, not only properly understands the statutory laws of discrimination, but are also thoughtfully proactive when it comes to diversity, modelling a consciously positive culture within your workplace that truly respects the human rights of your staff.
If you need some pointers on overcoming unconscious bias in your workplace you will find Peeps HR blog "7 steps to ensure diversity in the workplace" useful.
Remember! Your people are, after all, your very greatest asset!
If you’d like to know more about the issue of unconscious bias in the workplace then please feel free to get in touch, we’d be delighted to hear from you.