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Unconscious Bias: Does it Impact Your Decisions?

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity in the workplace is something many businesses seem to highlight as one of their key objectives. However, there is as of yet no measurement for diversity and so, surely anyone can call their firm diverse? This issue is important to mention as having true diversity isn’t as simple as it may first appear. There are factors that aren’t easy to overcome, for example, unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is a direct result of our past experiences and impacts our daily decisions without us even knowing. It further comes into play when we are stressed and under pressure to make quick decisions. This is because it saves us vital amounts of time. It is not just diversity and inclusion that is impacted by unconscious bias, however. It can also have a notable effect on how profitable your decision making is as valuable ideas are missed.

The science behind unconscious bias

As explained in the video, created by enei, unconscious bias comes from our human nature to categorize the people around us into groups depending on what we perceive to be true. This can be dangerous as it not only disregards what people are capable of but these assumptions could also be wrong.  If we don’t try and identify when we are grouping people in this way, you fall into a possible trap. Whereby, you associate stereotypes with a whole group, moving further away from knowing the true individual.

Affinity Bias

Our natural reaction is to favour those groups that we can identify with or share values with. This is known as affinity bias. What we see in someone that makes us gravitate towards them could be as simple as a shared educational background or upbringing. Although this is not a negative form of bias, in the sense that you are discriminating against people, it leads to a lack of diversity. It becomes more difficult to see faults in those like yourself and you become more critical of people who are different. Eventually, an organisation will appear as an exclusive club preventing people that don’t ‘fit the mould’ to break through.

Confirmation Bias

Another form of bias is known as confirmation bias or the ‘I am right’ bias. It essentially forms when you are actively searching for information which confirms preconceptions about people and events. Although this saves time as it prevents us from questioning everything, which would slow things to a stand-still. It means we are more likely to discount key or unexpected information that contradicts our existing beliefs.

Discriminatory Bias

Although some unconscious biases come from good intentions, there are also forms of unconscious bias that come from discriminations that we may not even realise we have. These are often based on stereotypes that we form from past experience but may also be from other peoples opinions that have impacted our perception. Certain discriminatory biases, such as against tattoos, can affect how we predict someone will act in particular situations, for example, someone with tattoos is more likely to be a rule breaker. Whereas, other unconscious biases could impact how we interact with people, making them feel isolated.

However, it is important to remember that although these biases can have negative impacts on companies and individuals they are not conscious. Meaning, it’s not as simple to just acknowledge that they are there to combat them and instead it takes a behavioural change to prevent them from determining decisions.

Social Comparison Bias

Social comparison is based on protecting ourselves and our self-esteem by favouring those that don’t compete with our personal strengths. This can lead to organisational or team performance falling over time as they fail to reproduce strengths in order to protect personal standing.

The impact on performance

Probably the most notable time, when biases can lead to a lack of diversity, is during recruitment. When hiring people it is often a lot easier to trust someone that reminds you of yourself or people that have already been successful within your organisation than taking a gamble on a new personality. This can lead to a workforce capable of carrying out certain tasks really well but failing at others.

For example, by only hiring people with analytical capabilities, although every detail will be taken into consideration. It may be difficult to come to a final decision quickly. However, it is not just during recruitment that biases can impact your decisions. It also comes into play when deciding on promotions, delegating leaders or authorising time off. It is easy to see how much of an impact this can have on organisations and individuals.

There are also instances when candidates are destined to fail before even attending an interview. Something as simple as the language used within a job specification can isolate certain candidates. This is true for the use of masculine and feminine language. It is often expected of a man to be assertive, competitive and dominant so using this language when describing your ideal candidate will immediately have an impact on the number of women who will apply for a role. Often when a woman demonstrates these qualities, it is seen to be abnormal and she may even be penalised for it.

How to prevent unconscious bias

Although it is impossible to completely eradicate unconscious bias because we all do it subconsciously and it is a behaviour that it allows us to make decisions efficiently, there are methods to reduce the impact:

  1. Your first step to reducing the impact of unconscious bias is self-awareness. Without being aware of what biases you have it would be impossible to try to prevent them from impacting upon your decisions. Identify where your biases are by completing an association test. These tests were created in the 1990’s and since over 14 million test have been completed. The tests measure your association between objects such as ‘women’ and ‘pink’, measuring implicit association and therefore bias. We recommend taking the Harvard Implicit Association test found here.
  2. When conducting interviews for a new position within your organisation, use a panel rather than one-on-one interviews. This means that there are various people involved in making the decision and one person’s biases are less likely to have an impact on the final decision. Also, by gathering people from various departments it will help ensure that the individual has all the capabilities needed to fulfil their role rather than just skills that will benefit one department.
  3. Become aware of how those in your team operate. By ensuring that you follow effective team practices it will ensure that all members of the team are comfortable coming forward with new ideas. For example, some people will not be confident coming forward in a meeting if they have not had time to process the information. A solution could be releasing an agenda for the meeting beforehand, which includes all the relevant information that will be discussed.
  4. Something simple that is often overlooked is a simple checklist. By following a checklist when carrying out tasks it creates a systematic approach which eradicates the chance of errors. By following a structured approach it also makes it less likely that personal biases will affect the end result as the process is formulated and should leave no room for interpretation. Psychologist Geoff Smart found that an interview technique called the airline captain approach of hiring, based on a checklist to make sure they knew everything about the interviewee, had a much higher success rate. Avoiding a situation where they regretted the hire. When compared to an interview approach, which he called the art critic whereby they made a gut decision based on their own expertise.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog! If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

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Georgia Plumbley

Written by Georgia Plumbley

Currently, my main source of adventure comes from my new job role here at Mission Performance. As one of the newest members of the team, I have the perfect opportunity to learn and develop alongside an inspiring group of people. Whilst a lot of my effort goes towards my role as marketing coordinator at Mission Performance, you may also find me running a project or two along the way as I aim to stretch myself and get involved in all aspects of the business.

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