Have you ever hired an employee who reminded you of someone you’re fond of? Asked a female member of staff if they’re planning to return to work after giving birth? Perhaps congratulated a male employee for making a brilliant point, which had gone unnoticed when made by a female? Or, when filling an urgent vacancy, speedily shortlisted the candidates with names that felt most familiar and easy to read?
If any of these situations sound familiar, bias likely played a part in them.
Research has shown unconscious bias permeates all areas of business and the employee experience. So, even a manager with the best of intentions – without recognition of their inherent bias – can negatively impact the trajectory of their team members’ careers. Which in the long run, inevitably takes its toll on the organisation.
Unconscious bias training is a strategy many companies often implement as a solution. However, data from Arctic Shores showed that despite 81% of companies taking this route, there is still a continued decrease of confidence from leaders in its standalone ability to tackle these issues in a sustained and effective way.
With that in mind, how can leaders identify when bias is likely to show up, and what can they do to mitigate it?
Bias And Career Conversations
Our bias influences our interactions – including the crucial ones around employees’ careers.
For example, a manager may unintentionally show favour to an employee they have an affinity with, based on how they look, sound, etc. That favour can become evident in their inclination to lean into one positive characteristic the employee has, allowing it to influence their overall assessment of their character, ability, and the outcomes of the conversation.
Meanwhile, upon meeting with a different member of staff they have less commonality with, they could have a negative pre-judgement of them which may not be true. And subconsciously, might seek out things to back up their initial judgement, rather than soberly seeing the full picture pertaining to this person and their potential.
There is also a strong likelihood that it wouldn’t go unnoticed by the employee. They can be acutely aware their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other factors may single them out or subtly shape the nature of the interactions they experience. Consequently, threatening feelings of alienation, stress and anxiety, and negatively impacting their ability to do their best work. This draining chain of events can cause employees to shut down in conversation with their manager and withhold valuable ideas and solutions the team would have otherwise benefited from.
Bias and Development and Retention
Unconscious bias will therefore affect the day-to-day work of employees. Those with whom the manager has an affinity has a higher chance of being put onto the big projects that will facilitate growth and learning. They may also be given additional support from the manager.
In the long run, this has a direct impact on career progression. Because mentoring and promotion tend to take place informally, it is the favoured employees who have had access to these perks that will hear of career development opportunities first.
Those who are treated differently from other employees can sense their lack of visibility and progress in the organisation. A reality that would cause much frustration, upset and confusion. Compelling them to seek opportunities elsewhere, where they feel valued, included and recognised for their expertise.
How To Tackle Bias
Our biases are formed throughout life, and societal and parental conditioning reinforce them at a subconscious level. That said, there is no clear-cut way to completely get rid of bias. However, there are certain things managers can do to mitigate it when it comes to career conversations and subsequent career development.
- Broaden your circle: Make a conscious effort to work with a wider and more diverse range of people. By getting to know them individually on a deeper level, you can develop a greater understanding of them whilst also improving your cultural competence.
- Make well-considered decisions: Did you know that we can have 11 million things being processed unconsciously, whilst we’re only able to consciously process 40 items consciously? Rushed decisions are based on our unconscious brain processes is how biased choices come about. Slow down and allow more time to consciously and deliberately make the right decisions that are as fair as possible.
- Continue unconscious bias training: Doing one-off training on its own is not a fail-safe. But regular and ongoing unconscious bias training will help you and your organisation address issues in a systemic and effective way.
- Set a good example: Take responsibility for your own bias by working towards becoming more aware of them. You can take various tests, such as the Harvard implicit association test (IAT) to help you achieve this. Once you change your own behaviour, you’re in a much better place to encourage others to do so, too.
- Organise perspective activities: This is a great way to get yourself and your employees to view situations through a different lens and develop an appreciation for other people’s points of view. This can help people approach career conversations with a greater level of awareness and understanding.
- Ask for feedback: The best way to find out how much progress is being made with developing a broader awareness of bias across an organization and fostering an environment where employees can feel recognised and part of the collective is to simply get honest feedback. Give your employees space to truthfully share their experience being at the organisation.