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Unlocking success by becoming aware of unconscious bias

Tuesday 13 Oct 2020

Biased comments and behaviours about gender, appearance or race are out of place in today’s workplace. But unconscious bias is much harder to eliminate, because it is so subtle that we are unaware of it

Unconscious bias involves our assumptions about people, and can result in information not being shared, a colleague not being encouraged to speak up at a meeting, or someone left uninvited to an event. Left unaddressed, it can undermine our ability to be creative, respond to challenges, satisfy customers, and ultimately succeed in our jobs.

“If you imagine your brain to be like a continuum, at one end you have the bias that you know very well that you’ve got, that you’ve had for years, that you know you don’t feel comfortable with. Buried at the other end of that is bias that is buried so deeply you never know it’s there,” says Angela Peacock, CEO of leading diversity and inclusion consultancy firm PDT.

For large organisations, unconscious bias can result in hiring and promotion practices that create an over-homogenised group that may struggle to innovate products and services as a team based on different points of view might be able to do. Multiple perspectives and flexibility are necessary in a fast-moving and globalised context. Unconscious bias affects an entire array of decisions that impact a company’s ability to be effective.

“The impact of allowing unconscious bias to be unchecked in your organisation these days is actually tantamount to ignoring a very strategic driver for your business success,” says Ms Peacock.

We cannot get rid of unconscious bias completely, but everyone can learn how to recognise it. Becoming aware of our own blind spots and assumptions about age, race, gender, religion or ability is a start. For example, we can question our first impressions and ask for opinions from someone who may be able to offer an angle that we have never considered. We should try to get out of our own comfort zones whenever we can – by becoming aware of unconscious bias, we stop it interfering with our success!