Implicit biases have become a widespread issue in many work environments. It poses a significant barrier to achieving greater workplace diversity. Rooted in subconscious prejudices, which often materialize as assumptions, stereotypes, or even biases, they can hinder productivity and collaboration in the workplace.
Implicit biases are biases that occur without awareness or intent. They are the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that influence our behavior and decisions while we stay unaware of them. There are many ways they can – from subtle microaggressions to more overt forms of discrimination.
How we perceive people who are different from us and how we interact with them is the core of implicit biases. Biases can deeply impact some of our actions and choices, although we are unaware of them.
Aware or not, with such biased decisions, we can make different groups, such as those based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors, feel inequality in the workplace.
Whatever we do, in the background, our minds are constantly processing information from the world and making associations between people, objects, and ideas. This process happens very quickly, and often, we aren’t aware of it.
Even when consciously rejecting biases and stereotypes, we may still possess implicit biases towards certain groups of people.
So, understanding implicit biases is critical because even if they sometimes go under our conscious radar, they can lead to discrimination and unfair treatment of others.
The unconscious mind is remarkable—it rapidly processes vast amounts of information, utilizing shortcuts our brains have developed based on our experiences, culture, and personal history. The unconscious mind makes nearly instantaneous judgments about the world around us, but it can often be inaccurate.
Take a classic example: A bat and a ball cost £1.10. If the bat costs £1 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost? Most people—over 50% of students at leading universities worldwide—mistakenly respond with 10 pence. The correct answer is actually 5 pence; many of us default to 10 pence without thought due to our unconscious mind relying on instinct rather than analysis.
Our unconscious mind isn’t just unreliable; it’s also biased. In milliseconds, we assess whether someone is similar to us and belongs to our ‘in-group,’ in other words, the people we favor. This means men may favor men, and women may favor women. However, someone can belong to different ‘groups’ and even favor a powerful ‘group,’ such as a woman favoring a man over another woman. This phenomenon is known as implicit biases.
While the conscious mind is often seen as the domain of logical thinking and decision-making, recent research suggests that much of our decision-making process may be guided by our unconsciousness. This means we frequently do not control our thoughts or actions during decision-making.
Swift processing of information using background knowledge, cultural environment, and personal experiences
Our unconscious mind rapidly processes information from our background, cultural environment, upbringing, and personal experiences to form snap judgments.
While our unconscious mind aids us in making quick and efficient correct decisions, it’s not always reliable or accurate.
When building a fair and welcoming workplace, organizations need to be proactive in tackling those hidden biases we all carry. It’s not just recognizing these biases. It is more about equipping everyone with strategies to counter them.
It’s a joint effort—employers and employees must be conscious of implicit biases’ presence and potential impact in the workplace.
Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the most important skill when dealing with workplace implicit biases. It’s all about:
Adopting a positive outlook towards diversity and inclusion helps us see how our biases might influence our choices and actions.
Building cultural intelligence starts with understanding different cultures and backgrounds. This means getting to know different cultures, traditions, and how things are done and understanding the difficulties people from various backgrounds experience in the workplace.
Learning and knowing more about different cultures and how biases affect decision-making is crucial for creating an inclusive environment.
To address implicit biases, you must develop skills tied to emotional intelligence, such as active listening, self-awareness, empathy, and respect for others. These skills help us engage in open discussions about issues tied to implicit biases in the workplace.
Implicit biases can lead to unintentional discrimination that negatively affects the workplace vibe. They can lead to unfair treatment and create an uncomfortable atmosphere for all employees. However, employers and employees can take the initiative to minimize these biases at work.
Start by educating yourself about implicit biases and how they appear at work. Understand that there are different types of biases related to gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and others. A solid understanding is the first step to spotting these biases in your behavior or others.
Evaluating which biases might influence you or your organization the most is crucial. Conduct surveys or interviews with employees to identify potential sources of bias. Also, examine hiring practices and make sure they’re fair and impartial.
Once potential sources of bias are recognized, set clear expectations for behavior in the workplace. This could involve setting specific rules about language use, dress codes, and other behaviors that might appear discriminatory or offensive.
Apart from setting expectations, ensure that inclusivity and fairness are maintained when making recommendations. Recommendations should come from various sources, not just personal networks. Be cautious about imposing preferences from superiors to avoid favoring specific individuals based on personal biases.
Lastly, offer open communication channels for employees who feel they’ve faced discrimination due to implicit biases at work.
Employers must be aware that they are the ones who are responsible and can contribute to an environment where everyone feels respected and valued, regardless of their background or identity.