5 Ways To Tackle Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias affects every area of our lives. Unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us and come from backgrounds similar to ours. Everyone likes to think he or she is open-minded and objective, but research has shown that the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves.

These thought patterns, assumptions and interpretations – or biases which may be based on race, gender, sex, religion, politics, personality type, class, physical attributes, have built up over time. From a survival standpoint, bias is a positive and necessary trait. In business, however, bias can be costly. It can cause us to make decisions that are not objective; and ultimately we miss opportunities. Here are some ways in which to manage the unconscious biases that you have:


  1. Awareness of what our particular unconscious biases are. Important factors that have been shown to reduce racial bias include improved monitoring of the accuracy of individual decision making, closer physical proximity to individuals of ‘other groups’, exposure to multi-cultural education and exposure to situations that contradict the particular bias (Pope, Price & Wolfers, 2014).


  1. Empathy, particularly “perspective taking,” or the ability to feel or imagine what another person feels or might feel by taking some time to have an introductory discussion maybe around career goals, relationships or hobbies can positively impact the relationship with that person, before moving on to speak about work. (Todd, Bodenhausen, Richeson & Galinsky, 2011).


  1. Exposure to other race groups, the differences between the groups and individuals in the group and their successes, helps challenge stereotypes that may have been built up in their mind. Mixing with a variety of people outside your traditional ‘in groups’ helps break down stereotypes and assumptions. (Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004 and three other studies).


  1. Using positive stereotype imagery to imagine alternatives to any negative ones we may have in our minds. A more positive and proactive approach to changing stereotypes would be to encourage people to consider the diversity within social and work groups and especially the many examples of those we don’t know personally such as business, sportsmen, politicians and celebrities who break that stereotype. (Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001).


  1. Micro-affirmations are small gestures of respect and inclusion and can help you to become more consciously fair with more focus given to listening and inclusion. Valuing and engaging with those from all groups helps to make the workplace a more equitable environment.


What will you put in motion today to reduce the negative impacts of your unconscious biases?