four practical ways to tackle unconscious bias

Four Practical Ways to Tackle Unconscious Bias

We’re human, we all have unconscious biases that play a huge role in the decisions we make day in, day out, at home or at work.

When these biases rear their head in the workplace, the impact on recruitment, team members’ progression, management decisions, culture and ultimately the bottom line are not to be ignored.

Managers exert a significant influence on the extent to which biases impair decision-making within the workplace – simply because they make a lot of them. Managers are your ‘go to’ if you really want to make a change for the better in your organisation in terms of bias-free decision making. unconscious bias

As a first step, encourage everyone to recognise that we all have biases and help them to understand why they are there. Explode the myth that we shouldn’t have them. Instead, tackle what biases do when they take over our conscious decision-making and enable employees to feel the difference when their conscious brain does the thinking.

How to do it? Here’s our top four practical steps for employers to develop managers to tackle unconscious bias:

1. Tell great stories

By ‘great’ we mean ‘memorable’ – stories that illustrate how unconscious bias has influenced a situation. Our ‘go to’ source of these is Shankar Vedantam’s The Hidden Brain – it’s full of stories that make the hairs on your arms stand on end.

But don’t leave it there. By ‘great’ we also mean ‘relatable’. Stories that your audience can see themselves being part of are key to getting buy in. Take a look at The Asch Experiment, its antiquity is part of its charm, but in our experience it really makes people think ‘what they would do’.

2. Tackle the ‘tests’

Next, help managers to acknowledge the existence of their own biases if you need to. There are well-respected tests of unconscious bias, such as the implicit association test that do that, but always follow up with the ‘so what?’. A test may tell you that you exhibit a bias, but the real behaviour change will come from learning techniques on how to address it.

3. Share tools and techniques and how to apply them

Take the fear factor out of how to manage bias by exploring techniques that managers may well have come across in other leadership development. Self-coaching, using well-established techniques such as Chris Argyris’ the ladder of inference or Edward Bono’s 6 thinking hats can often be a winning combination.

4. Make it feel real: give them tools to make good decisions

Take the job of deciding a performance rating – it’s a classic example of a situation where an affinity bias can play too much of a part in the decision-making process. Give your managers the tools to break down the decision-making to keep the conscious brain in the driving seat. We’ve got some great micro-learning tools to do just that. Something as straightforward as a decision-making flow that asks them to step back and recognise what they’re actually rating. Is it the ‘what’s’ of the job or the ‘how’s’? Is it performance as a whole, or in relation to specific objectives? Then ask them look at your ratings and spot the difference between the requirements of one compared to another.

Then ask them to compare performance against the rating – and as always, show their workings with evidence. It’s a matter for you to decide whether you link these tools to avoiding unconscious bias, or to promoting good decision-making: The end result remains the same.

These four steps, working together, are designed to make development on this topic constructive, pragmatic and something managers can implement. Make them part of the solution by eradicating ‘that was interesting, but…’ from the feedback from your unconscious bias development.

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