Make Peace With Your Unconscious Bias to Unlock Innovative Success

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Katherine Sorensen

Content Strategist at Coplex

We all have unconscious biases that get in the way of forming strong bonds, hiring the right team, and making positive change and decisions in the workplace. 

Unconscious biases, (also known as Implicit Bias) are learned social stereotypes that are automatic, often unintentional, deeply ingrained, and able to influence behavior, especially with how we treat other people and make decisions. These biases are heavy with years of toxic influence, and it’s time to unpack what’s weighing us down so we can move forward.

It's Time to Unlearn Toxic Viewpoints

Make no mistake, "gut feelings" in the workplace, especially when it comes to hiring, could be a result of unconscious bias. In the workplace especially, there are myriad biases that affect the way things are governed in many companies. Becoming aware of our unconscious biases enables us to take action to prevent them from interfering with success when it comes to being a thriving, innovative company that is diverse and inclusive. 

Unconscious bias is everywhere. In the workplace, these biases result in patterns that shape the future of our businesses. This could range from having a mostly white staff or a leadership team made up solely of men, to perpetuating the wage gap or hiring someone based on their looks alone. A common example of implicit bias in action is using the excuse that women are "too emotional" in their decision making as a justification for not putting them in leadership positions. 

Our biases are not limited to gender or race; they also include ability, orientation, age, religion and more. There may even be certain scenarios in our lives that can trigger these biases. This can happen during multitasking, when we’re trying to meet a deadline, or other situations that are especially stressful. 

Hiring diversely and encouraging diverse thinking by having decision-making teams that include individuals from a wide range of personal backgrounds is the key to unlearning, and slowly removing these biases from our business practices. It is hard to change one's beliefs, and removing these biases from our lives won't happen overnight. However, everyone is capable of change, and it is critical that we all make the effort everyday to hold ourselves accountable. 

Our Unconscious Bias is Holding Us Back 

95% of the population is affected by unconscious biases. This bias bleeds into the workplace and can stunt performance, creativity, growth, and innovation. It’s not hard to make a business case for reducing the impact of unconscious bias: Companies with 30 percent or more female executive leadership outperform companies with less than 30. Hiring more women and putting them in leadership positions seems like the no-brainer solution; however, with unconscious bias standing in the way, that solution is easier said than done.

How do we begin to break free of these biases? While the efficacy of Unconscious Bias Training is still up for debate, that doesn’t mean some kind of workplace training isn’t necessary. We're not likely to completely eliminate our biases. Instead, it’s about breaking the habit and recognizing this behavior and mindset within ourselves so we can stop the cycle.

Ways to break the cycle of toxic bias:

Listen to and read diverse stories

When we take the time to hear and consider the side of those who come from different backgrounds, the more our minds begin to open to the reality these people actually live in, rather than the cultural stereotypes they’ve been assigned. 

Take an implicit bias test

When we see the facts, it can encourage us to reflect on our biases and become more aware of the ways in which we are perpetuating a cycle of violence and discrimination. Harvard has an Implicit Bias Test that covers a range of topics, telling the user what their underlying suggested preference is for each.

Self care—seriously

Implicit Bias shows up more when we are tired, stressed, or mentally unwell. The more out-of-character we feel, the less likely it is to be self-aware when it comes to our thoughts and actions.

Change the way you do things

For example, there’s evidence of bias in the way HR teams review resumes, and how bias clouds the judgement of which candidates are a good, qualified fit for the role, versus candidates that just look good on paper. Practices such as comparing work examples, assignments, or portfolios instead of focusing on the age, gender, or background of a candidate makes for more fair, diverse hiring. 

Escape your comfort zone

As individuals, we often choose to be in spaces where we see our own views reflected back at us. In doing so, we perpetuate fear of the unknown. Social Media is a common way that we exist within comfort zones and one of the easiest places to expand. Rather than choosing to see only people, ideas, and views that reflect your own, follow news sources that you normally wouldn’t, look for diverse influencers, and make a deliberate effort to expand your worldview on the internet. 

Unconscious bias bleeds into the workplace and can stunt performance, creativity, growth, and innovation.

Our implicit bias makes us resistant to change and new ideas, and the workplace is no exception to this resistance. If we fear ideas or people that are unlike ourselves, we cannot grow as people, nor can our businesses reach their true potential. Innovation happens when out-of-the-box ideas are brought to the table, and the more diverse and inclusive your team is, the better and more common these groundbreaking ideas will be. 

Need an extra boost of motivation to get started? We recommend watching Janet Stovall’s TED Talk, How to get serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We also recommend Gail Tolstoi-Miller’s TED Talk, Unconscious bias: Stereotypical hiring practices. 

Turn Unconscious Bias Into Conscious Awareness.

In order to be innovative, we have to embrace and encourage inclusiveness.

The work of unlearning and understanding our unconscious biases won’t be easy, but it is urgently necessary. Have the uncomfortable talks, be open to having your mind change, and don’t shy away from having to admit you’re wrong while on the path to make things right.

Right now, there is a need for change, and it doesn’t pay to be silent. Talk to your coworkers, your friends, and your family—the change starts with you.