#YesSheCan Unpacks: Unconscious Bias

Everyone has faced biased decisions or opinions at least once in their life, whether they experienced it in their personal lives or in a more professional setting like the workplace. Most of the time, we could be thinking about our own bias towards others in our heads – this is all down to something called ‘unconscious bias’.

In this #YesSheCan blog, we will be discovering what unconscious bias means in the workplace and in particular, how women and their careers can be influenced by it. Whether you are a person who wants to become more self-aware or a leader in the workplace who wants to improve their skills, we can give you the steps to improve!

By Definition…

“Unconscious bias is implicit. It is unintended and subtle, based on unconscious thought. Typically, unconscious bias happens involuntarily without any awareness or intentional control.”

Every human has what is called an ‘unconscious bias’ and it’s ingrained into our way of thinking thanks to evolution. Biologically, it helps us determine if someone is friendly or hostile keeping ourselves safe. This bias changes from person to person, depending on things like your background and life experiences. Although the purpose of this way of thinking is supposed to help us, it can be detrimental.

Unconscious bias is subtle and can lead to – you’ve guessed it – prejudiced choices in environments such as recruitment. Whether we realise it or not, one person could throw out an application based on someone’s name and not their professional qualifications or skills.

Another negative but common way of thinking associated with unconscious bias may be assuming a nurse is a woman or an engineer or construction worker must be a man.

Different kinds of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias isn’t limited to one trait or stereotype – there are many different kinds of ways that it can manifest itself. Here a few ways people can unconsciously judge others, specifically within the workplace or when recruiting –

  • Physical Appearance bias 

  • Age Bias

  • Gender Bias

  • Racial Bias

  • Disability Bias

What ways can this affect women in their careers?

At #YesSheCan we understand women can experience difficult situations which result in them leaving their careers or not having the confidence and support to overcome those barriers. These particular outcomes can be caused by unconscious bias within recruiters or leaders in the workplace. In most cases it can funnel down to – gender bias.

A global study found that in the workplace “men are more likely than women to be seen as brilliant.” This way of thinking can stem from the perception of gendered traits and society’s stereotypes associated between gender and skill. This can really damage how women are seen by others, particularly in the workplace. Unfortunately, women don’t need to see a dip in their productivity

This knee-jerk reaction which is linked with unconscious gender bias may mean women lose out on great opportunities or may be left out of big projects. For example, a recruiter meets a female candidate and immediately thinks “they won’t be strong or assertive enough to fulfill this role” and likewise, a leader in the workplace may think the same during a big project.

This domino effect from gender bias can hit a woman’s confidence and they can wrongfully believe that they aren’t suited or ‘successful enough’ to achieve goals in their careers. This can result in women not applying for promotions or making great decisions in their careers and allows unconscious bias to continue to grow – even when it shouldn’t.

How can we be more aware of unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is not set in stone and people can develop a new way of thinking for example, their thoughts when they first meet other people. This can be achieved through training or workshops and generally just becoming more self-aware. Everyone should be mindful of their own attitudes in the workplace – in particular those in recruitment or leaders in the workplace.

Here are some thoughts you can change which will help you be more aware of unconscious bias –

  • Praise performance instead of focusing on bias

Instead of judging based on race, gender, age, etc – judge a person on their performance. Are they hitting their goals and are they a valued peer or leader? If they are, despite how old they are or if they have tattoos, why shouldn’t they be given great opportunities?

  • Look outside of what you’re comfortable with – instead of hiring people who remind you of yourself.

For example – If you’re a white man who finds themselves with a team of only men , actively start to choose a more diverse pool of candidates.

Not only will this improve your workplace and team performance, but it will also challenge your own biases and encourage you to meet different types of people. This will only create positive results!

  • Avoid phrases or words which are discriminative or reinforce stereotypes

Describing a woman who is displaying strong leadership skills as ‘bossy’ or ‘intimidating’ is aiding and continuing that bias. The more you use or hear those descriptors, the more you will negatively learn that’s the way to perceive women in the workplace. Reflect on what traits you think are negative and you may realise that they aren’t negative at all – it’s just your unconscious bias speaking!

Remember to be kind to yourself and know that you shouldn’t feel shame or disappointment if you even find yourself thinking negatively about someone because of any of these biases – it’s something which has been ingrained as a norm in our society. As long as you’re taking the steps to become more aware and taking accountability, then you are on the right track!
If you are a leader or business interested in training workshops or bespoke coaching, click here to explore how #YesSheCan can help your business to learn, develop and succeed! 

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