We are all susceptible to biases. Let's get that out in the open. Rather than arguing the obvious, the important thing is to recognize their potential influence and be proactive about mitigating bias' impact on our decisions.
Why are we all biased?
Bias, specifically unconscious bias, is the result of years worth of conditioning. It usually includes aspects like your upbringing, perceptions, and exposure to things like pop culture.
Although these influences rarely make it to our conscious minds, they can play a significant role in governing our decisions.
Highlighted in a Google unconscious bias training, research suggests that our minds, at any given moment, are exposed to millions of bits of information. Inputs such as sights, sounds, smells, temperature, and tastes; you get the picture. However, our brains are only capable of consciously processing 40 at a time.
These "shortcuts" show up as gut-decisions, assumptions, intuition, and knee-jerk reactions.
In prehistoric times, biases were useful. They kept us alive. If you saw something with sharp teeth that looked scary, it was safe to assume you should run. But, we're not in life or death situations at work--for the most part.
Now, you must challenge your assumptions to ensure you're making objective decisions. The first step is awareness.
Here are a few areas where I've seen biases hijack objective decision making.
Within a matter of seconds, interviewers form first impressions of candidates. Everything from what a candidate wears, their handshake, to their timeliness is subject to judgment. The issue is that these first impressions are often based on biases.
Let me explain.
Let's say a candidate arrives 10 minutes late for an interview. As they step into the conference room, they appear out of breath and disheveled. It would be easy to assume, in this instance, that they're unorganized and unprofessional. You knew someone in the past that exhibited similar traits, and they were the stereotypical procrastinator.
At that point, a bias known as confirmation bias sets in. In other words, regardless of what the candidate says throughout the interview, you've already labeled them. It doesn't matter if they had just saved someone from a burning vehicle, you only hear what you want to hear, and you write them off.
Now, throw in additional information like school, GPA, home address, hobbies, etc. Every single one of these evokes a new bias.
As you can imagine, this situation is dangerous. Because of one person's biases, the organization could be losing out on top talent.
A new spot on the team has opened up, and you want to encourage employees to apply. This position, however, requires 50 percent travel. So, as you're reaching out, you skip over those employees who have families. You had a stay at home parent, so your subconscious tells you that everyone has similar views.
Or, let's say that that the new position requires a certain level of tech-savviness. Although you have an employee who has exhibited exceptional performance, they're a baby-boomer. So, you instinctively give the opportunity to a younger employee.
You get the picture.
Biases can affect our ability to make the best decisions for our organizations, among other things.
To mitigate its impact, organizations have to start educating employees on unconscious bias.
The next step is to add in structure where there is a lack of clear decision-making practices. For example, structured interview questions. However awkward it may be, canned questions provide a fair and consistent platform to evaluate candidates.
The same can be applied to reviews and goal setting. Make sure every employee is evaluated against uniform competencies and performance expectations.
In those instances where there is no decision making precedence, progressive organizations are encouraging employees to second-guess themselves. I know, it seems counterintuitive, but what the process promotes is self-reflection and confirmation that your decisions are unbiased.
We have a long way to go if we want to root out unconscious bias in the workplace. But, it starts with awareness. The more we talk about it, the more easily it can be identified and addressed inside our organizations.