How to Reduce Unconscious Bias at Work

Posted by

Lynne Callister

on 12 Oct 2021

10 Ways to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias may lead to certain groups being treated less favourably or discriminated against. To help, we have 10 tips on how to reduce bias in the workplace.

When we meet people, we often judge them based on what we see, like their age, weight and attractiveness. But we may also judge them on their accent, where they studied and their socio-economic status.

Rapid processing occurs when our brains make quick judgements of people and situations around us, often without us even realising it. This can sometimes lead to unconscious bias. Our biases are likely influenced by our background, our culture and personal experiences. However, these biases can lead to out-groups being treated less favourably and even discrimination.

Research has shown that unintentional bias can have a detrimental impact on recruitment, training and other work-related decisions.

Key equality & diversity facts

  • Women make up just 17% of boards in FTSE100 companies.
  • Only 8% of FTSE100 board members are BAME; the overall population is 14%.
  • And only 9 of the FTSE100 companies are headed up by BAME individuals.
  • 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women.
  • 38% of women with dependent children work part-time compared to 7% of men.
  • Pregnancy discrimination results in 54,000 women losing their jobs and 44,000 losing out on promotion or pay rises.

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Top tips to help tackle unconscious bias in your firm

1. Accept that we all have unconscious biases

Bias is part of being human, but if we don't acknowledge this, we can't tackle it. Take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to become more aware of your own biases.

2. Make considered decisions

Unintentional bias is more likely when you 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 attention to bias related to protected characteristics

For example, age, disability, sex, maternity, race, religion, etc. - as this is discrimination and hence illegal.

5. Widen your social circle

Don't sit with the same colleague every day. Move around and spend time with people from different cultural and academic backgrounds etc. This will build your cultural competence and lead to better understanding.

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6. Set ground rules for behaviour

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, as you may jump to the wrong conclusion.

8. Use rotas to avoid stereotyping

Have rotas for 'housekeeping' tasks, such as taking the minutes in a meeting, organising refreshments, etc., to ensure fairness and reduce the potential for gender stereotyping.

9. Speak out if you notice bias 

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.

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