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unconscious bias

When we meet people for the first time, we often make quick assessments based on what we see (their age, body weight, attractiveness) and even on some of the things we can't see, such as their accent, where they studied, and their socio-economic background etc.

This rapid processing is known as unconscious bias and it happens when our brains make quick judgments of people and situations without even realising it. These biases are likely influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. Unfortunately, such biases often lead to out-groups being treated less favourably and can even lead to discrimination.

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In fact, research has shown that unintentional bias can have a heavy impact on recruitment decisions.

Let's take a look at some key facts:

  • Women make up just 17% of boards in FTSE100 companies
  • There are just 8% of non-white people at board level in FTSE100 companies, compared with 14% of theunconscious bias overall population in the UK. What's more, only 9 non-white people hold the top position in those companies
  • 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women
  • 38% of women with dependent children work part-time compared to 7% of men
  • 54,000 women are pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination with an estimated 44,000 losing out on promotion or pay because of a pregnancy

Follow these top tips to help tackle unconscious bias in your firm:

  1. Accept that we all have unconscious biases - It's part of being human but if we don't acknowledge this, we can't tackle it. Take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) yourself at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/index.jsp to make you more aware of your own biases.
  2. Slow down - Unintentional bias is more likely when we make fast decisions or act on the spur of the moment, so be sure to take a step back.
  3. Monitor your own behaviour - Question your first impressions and extreme reactions to people; reflect on any rapid decisions you make (i.e - were they made objectively or was unconscious bias at play?)
  4. Pay particular attention to bias related to the 9 protected characteristics - For example, age, disability, sex, maternity, race, religion, etc - as this is discrimination.
  5. Widen your social circle - Don't sit with the same people everyday; move around and spend time with other people from different cultural and academic backgrounds etc. This will build your cultural competence and lead to better understanding. unconscious bias
  6. Set ground rules - Don't tolerate interruptions in your team; make sure everyone gets a fair hearing and has an equal chance to give their opinion.
  7. Avoid making assumptions or relying on gut instinct - For example, "My boss said that she didn't offer me the project because I have a new baby and there's some travel." Don't assume you know best - You may jump to the wrong conclusion.
  8. Use rotas to avoid stereotyping - Having rotas for 'housekeeping' tasks, such as taking the minutes in a meeting, ensures fairness and reduces stereotyping.
  9. Speak out if you notice bias in your team or with your manager - For example, if a male colleague talks over a female colleague, tactfully point out that you wanted to hear what she had to say. If your boss only ever assigns the stretching projects to the guys or your white colleagues, have a quiet word.
  10. Apologise if you get it wrong - Remember that we can only deal with bias if we're honest and admit our mistakes.

If you think your firm and its employees could benefit from online training on this subject, please fill out our Contact Us form and find out more about our Unconscious Bias e-learning course.

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