There has been much “airtime” given to unconscious bias over the last year.
The subconscious biases and prejudices we all have are a way of explaining why in this world of increased awareness around discrimination, underpinned by solid legislation in the form of the Equalities Act, we still only have 2 female CEOs in the FTSE 100 and the ethnic minority employment rate (60%) is still significantly lower than the white employment rate (76%) (report from National employment panel)
Understanding unconscious bias shows us that we all have prejudices buried within us – we all demonstrate preferences for one set of characteristics over another, depending on our past experiences and influences. It is human nature.
The danger lies in how it affects our decision-making and interaction at work. If bias creeps into recruitment decisions or how we see requests for flexible working, for example, we may be treating people unfairly and losing talent at the same time.
So the more awareness there is around this topic, the better. But awareness is only the first step. What organisations must also do is to equip managers to make changes to their own behaviour and have the confidence to intervene when others’ behaviour or actions show signs of bias.
The recent People Management survey on bias (November 2012) cited research from the ENEI (Employers network for equality and inclusion) that managers admitted to feeling anxious about “saying the wrong thing” to people different to them.
In these instances, we should be helping managers to develop the confidence to open up conversations, ask good open questions that stop them making assumptions and be able to genuinely engage with their team, no matter who they are.
Raise awareness, for sure, but take that next step. Concentrate on developing skills such as listening, questioning, giving feedback in a sensitive way and demonstrating empathy – and that’s where you will start to see real change.
More information on how we can help you reduce the effects of bias in your organisation
Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...