If you ask someone directly about their biases toward women, minorities, certain religious groups, etc., you're likely to hear something like: "I don't have any biases against anyone!" This type of response may reflect someone's fear of exposing biases they are aware of, or it could very well represent someone who is legitimately unaware of their prejudices against certain groups.
This is what we call unconscious bias, and it impacts all of us. We can, though, work together to identify and reduce the impacts of unconscious bias.
What makes unconscious bias so difficult to root out is the very fact that it's unconscious. The first step in addressing it is making employees aware of it. There are a number methods for this. Simply presenting data can help, but there are also objective tests that measure unconscious bias, which can be effective for raising awareness as well.
One reason it's hard for people to admit their unconscious biases is because our society has spent decades stressing that biases are bad. If someone believes biases are bad and finds that they harbor biases, they will feel guilty. It's crucial to avoid these feelings of guilt. A key way to do this is to present information on the universal and evolutionary nature of bias. We all have biases; these biases don't make us bad people.
Unconscious bias doesn't just harm the groups we have biases about. It harms all of us and the organizations we work for—statistics prove this. There are numerous statistics and studies available on the detrimental effects of unconscious bias to organizations, particularly the financial impacts.
You've shed light on the existence of unconscious bias, and you've conveyed the seriousness of the impact. Use these insights to generate buy-in from your staff to consciously be on the look-out for unconscious bias and to take steps push back against it.
Accountability can come in many forms. An easy way to hold each other accountable for unconscious bias is to challenge each other's assumptions when those assumptions may be influenced by bias. Another way is to set goals around thinking about and looking for unconscious bias in the workplace.
Unconscious bias is pervasive and detrimental to organizations. The first step in attacking unconscious bias is to shine light on it. Training—done effectively—can help.
Just any kind of training is not enough to generate results though. The “dip and done” strategy does not work. You cannot have people sit in an 8-hour training session once every five years and expect behavioral and cultural change to occur, and persist.
We approach training with our Learning Over Time® strategy; moving training beyond a one-time event to create learning that is reinforced by repeated exposure over time. Through our multiple methodology approach we are able to reach all levels of the organization with learning that is consistent and sustainable. Contact us to learn more.