What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is when our background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes, media and culture have an impact on our decisions and actions without us realising – essentially our unconscious feelings towards others.

Conversations surrounding unconscious bias and the public’s understanding of it have increased in recent months, since Sir Keir Starmer confirmed that he and all Labour party staff would sign up for unconscious bias training, in response to criticism of his reference to the Black Lives Matter protests as a ‘moment’. Business leaders and HR managers have since turned their attention to unconscious bias in the workplace, as High Speed Training reported a 1,625% increase in those signing up to its course in June and July compared to that of last year.

Here, Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training, explains what can be implemented in the workplace to help eradicate the bias.

What to keep in mind when recruiting

Unconscious bias in the workplace can have a seriously detrimental effect on our ability to hire the correct members of staff, as it’s easy to fall into hiring cased on a ‘culture fit’ approach. The bias can affect recruitment by:

  • Making us hire someone skilled because we believe they have got their through luck, rather than hard work
  • Making us unconsciously favour ‘attractive’ people during recruitment
  • Comparing candidates to each other rather than to the job description
  • Hiring a certain gender because we believe they are more suitable for the job or fit within the team
  • Hiring a candidate that isn’t the correct fit, but who thought was perfect at the time
  • Missing out on a candidate who is very skilled just because you personally dislike one thing about them

What can be done when completing performance reviews

It’s important that you address bias in performance reviews in order to ensure fairness. Your performance reviews should therefore:

  • Begin with clear and specific performance criteria that are related directly to the job requirements
  • Use a consistent review system across your team and business
  • Ask for specific evidence ang examples of work within the review period
  • Completely separate personality traits from skillsets
  • Implement peer reviews and 360 feedback

Steps to overcome bias in everyday working practices

After you have identified where there may be areas of unconscious bias, you should implement practices to help overcome it, including:

  • Establishing core values so that everyone is aware of the intentions to promote fairness and diversity
  • Invest in training in order for every member of staff to know what to look out for.
  • Challenge your bias by researching into people who are similar and successful to those who you may have previously hindered at work. This helps to challenge your subconscious which, in time, will help to eliminate bias.
  • Visualise a positive interaction as studies show that this can have the same behavioural and psychological effects as experiencing it in real life.
  • Use facts over ‘gut feeling’ whether it be in the recruitment stages or performance evaluations and promotions.

Unconscious bias may at first seem like a difficult issue to tackle, however implementing these steps throughout everyday working practices, as well as the hiring and performance review stages will ensure that your company is on the correct route to eliminating bias. As a direct result, this will allow for productivity to thrive, there be an increase in levels of creativity and finally better staff morale and job retention rates.