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How to stamp out unconscious bias in the workplace

7 Sep 2020 By Richard Anderson

From establishing core values to investing in training, Richard Anderson explores the key steps employers can take to start tackling the problem

Unconscious bias training has been catapulted into the headlines in recent months, since Keir Starmer confirmed that he and all labour party staff would sign up for training after criticism of his reference to the Black Lives Matter protests as a ‘moment’. This has since sparked conversations surrounding the public’s understanding of unconscious bias and whether they can play a role in helping to eradicate bias in the workplace.

The hardest part about overcoming unconscious bias is recognising when it’s taking place. First, you must be honest with yourself and identify which stereotypes affect you. Consider whether your interview technique is fair, what your reviewal process is for promotions and how well you get on with colleagues. Once you’ve identified where you or your company may be acting on unconscious bias, there are a series of simple steps to take to tackle the issue:

Establish core values: implementing a set of values that everyone in the company feels committed to is an effective way of counteracting unconscious bias. Encouraging everyone to refresh their knowledge of the values in place will help to maintain a harmonious atmosphere.

Invest in training: everyone should be clued up on unconscious bias training, especially supervisors and managers. It’s vital that we’re all aware of our implicit attitudes and when these are impacting on our decision-making. Insightful training is fundamental to making this clear.

Increase exposure to biases: stating any unconscious biases out loud helps to establish your core values. Not only will everyone know what you would like to achieve, but you will also be telling your subconscious.

Challenge your bias: once you’ve identified your unconscious bias and the type of people you are targeting, you should research people who are similar and successful. This helps to challenge your subconscious which, in time, will help to eliminate bias.

Visualise a positive interaction: it is proven that visualising a particular situation can have the same behavioural and psychological effects as experiencing it in real life. Imagining a particular scenario, similar to the step above, helps to dispel the bias you might have previously held.

Combat the bias: the key areas to combat your bias are through the recruitment stages, particularly when interviewing candidates. Try not to come to a decision on who to progress until the end of the process and always use fact over ‘gut feeling’. Performance evaluations and promotions are also areas where you can take out the likelihood of unconscious bias taking place. Use a detailed rating scale that’s consistent for all employees, and always put friendships and personal feelings towards someone aside.

Unconscious bias can of course be a difficult problem to tackle, as it is common for people to become set in their ways, particularly in a working environment. It is promising and encouraging to see that in the two months following the topic of unconscious bias dominating the headlines, High Speed Training has seen a 1,625 per cent increase in sign-ups for its unconscious bias training in June and July, compared to the same period last year. This indicates that the issue is now at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds within businesses and that they are now in a position to identify, challenge and overcome areas of unconscious bias in the workplace, especially through valuable training.

Richard Anderson is head of learning and development at High Speed Training

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