Are You Aware of Implicit Biases Lurking in Your Workplace?
Implicit Bias – a form of unconscious assumption or attribution of a certain quality to a person or a group of individuals in a group.
Meetings are a common phenomenon in corporate culture. However, one thing that I experience during most of the meetings and I’m sure you’ll agree is, people coming walking in late -. Some of the people entering late are politely welcomed and even briefed about what transpired before they walked in. But on the other hand, some other people are either given a fleeting glance, a passing comment or even reprimanded explicitly, let alone the welcome or update being ignored to them. This often is seen based on the seniority, gender, age or various other factors and everyone seem to find this ‘normal’.
Yet another example is when planning a company tournament or sporting matches for employees. A lot of organisations have games like Cricket and Football reserved for the males while women are encouraged for indoor games or events that can be played within the office premises. The chances of today’s women being good even at sports like cricket and football are high but what are the odds of them getting a chance to show their talents and skill on the field?
These are two isolated examples of what we call as ‘implicit biases’. We let our prejudgments and attributions take control of our better self and stereotype the person or a group based on that. And a lot of times, these remain with us for eternity, no matter how hard a person tries to change them. The above examples might seem isolated but are very much a reality in our offices today. There are many other instances that happen on a daily basis that highlight these implicit biases at our workplace.
Instances of Implicit Biases at Workplace
• A recruiting manager hiring a candidate just because the person is from the same MBA college as them
• A female team member is not offered a particular role because it involves late working hours and it is assumed she has to reach home in time and probably won’t be able to get things done
• A team leader is criticised by the team’s senior member just because he is young in age or lacks experience in that department
• A CEO is stereotyped to be of a particular kind because of his educational background or sexual orientation
These are just a few examples involving implicit biases. I can assure you with my experience, we have dealt with thousands of people across industries, domains and companies. Implicit bias is a common factor in almost every organisation across the globe.
Who is to blame? Probably no one. Because our human mind is wired that way to look for shortcuts and form associations in everything we do. Just like you would take a shorter route to your destination if there was one, the mind also takes shortcuts to know people through implicit biases wherever possible.
Various types of Implicit Biases that affect your workplace
Implicit bias can hamper your company’s overall initiative to become more inclusive and diverse in nature.
1. A bias during the recruiting process regarding a certain person might influence or in many cases overshadow the other bright skills the person might possess. This is a part of perception bias. Your perception may stick for the rest of the interview and irrespective of the answer, your perception may take precedence in your decision.
2. Similarly, a portrayal of affinity bias can be seen when an employee isn’t preferred for promotion just because the manager is of a certain gender, considers a colleague of the same gender for the role. This is seen in a majority places where the affinity is more appreciated than credibility.
3. Yet another example is of the halo effect bias. In this, an employee is given good reviews in the annual performance review because he/she comes from the same college as his/her evaluating manager. Thus the complete objectivity is missed under the halo of high regard for the college or institute.
4. A bandwagon bias comes into play when a particular employee agrees to stay late and do overtime just because the entire team is doing it. The concept of working overtime or extra doesn’t really come into play as then they would be left out and judged for being away.
5. In a gender bias, a person usually prefers one set of a colleague over another because they are more comfortable with that gender. They may even assume only a certain gender is best suited for a certain role. For instance, females are preferred for most customer-facing interactions like helpdesk, receptions, secretary, etc.
6. As a leader, when you review a team member’s performance and rate him/her in comparison with other members of the team, you may display signs of contrast effect. This makes you judge two separate individuals on either one’s criteria as a benchmark and could lead you to missing out on seeing individual merits in both.
7. If you called for an urgent meeting and one of your employees happens to come late that very day, there is a good chance you assuming that they don’t respect you or lack organisational and time management skills. Then throughout the meeting, you might only look and amplify examples in their behaviour that confirm this initial belief or opinion you created. This is what we call as a confirmation bias.
All these can become serious barriers in communication, conflict management and culture building in your organisation. The preconceived ideas would dictate terms that not only cause social and mental but also an emotional and financial loss to the organisation.
Implicit bias isn’t optional or learnt, it’s ingrained
Implicit biases aren’t as bad as they are perceived to be either. According to a study, our human brain receives 11 million bits of data every second and can process only 40 bits of data out of it. The entire remaining lot is then left to the implicit bias or the unconscious to make sense out of it. Hence, training the workforce on the fact that a biased behaviour isn’t always bad and the importance of managing these biases in the right way is crucial. Having structured training around specific biases relevant to your workplace as compared to the global idea of admonishing them upfront often leads to stronger and inclusive workplace environment.
Dealing with bias is a deeply rooted in bringing about a in the way we perceive our work relationships. It is not an easy task, yet with a constant reminder and supported with impactful activities one can make great progress in breaking these barriers. Those organisations that are able to focus on reducing their implicit biases, are the ones that go a long way in building a work environment that people aspire to be a part of.
At Yellow Spark, we empower you and your teams to identify the various implicit biases and manage them in the appropriate manner rather than outright dismissing them. With an organised approach and training module, we aim to train your workforce in identifying the implicit biases and thus increase the overall productivity of the individual employee and the company as a whole. You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.