The Psychology of Unconscious Bias

Propel your organization forward by promoting an understanding of unconscious bias, how it affects your employees, and what you can do to foster diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside of their own conscious awareness. They can originate from many experiences: early family life, exposure to different cultures, the media we consume, and the people we associate or work with.

Unconscious biases develop because we tend to organize our social worlds by categories, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. Our biases can be difficult to identify and change.

Unconscious Bias in Daily Life

Unconscious biases may be positive or negative, and they can impact our interactions with others — even if we have never met them. How can that be? Here’s an example: we often associate the color blue with calm, while we associate red with anger. We do this because our brains create shortcuts that help us to decode the outside world. In the same way, we may also make assumptions about people: we may assume that someone who has an extensive social network is more likable than someone who does not.

These assumptions and many others can lead to decisions or judgments that are not based on facts, which can be harmful in the workplace.

How to Increase Self-Awareness

Becoming more mindful of how you interact with others is one way to increase your awareness of your unconscious biases, which contributes to the greater goal of improving emotional intelligence. Here are several techniques that can help you identify unconscious biases and work toward overcoming them:

  • Be mindful of how you interact with others and try to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Challenge your assumptions about people and ask yourself why you hold these views.
  • Go out of your way to seek out different perspectives and be willing to change your mind based on new information.
  • Talk to your colleagues about unconscious bias and how it affects the workplace.

How Does Unconscious Bias Impact Employees?

Unconscious bias can have a significant impact on environments and the employees that work in them. It can influence adverse employment actions, such as certain types of people being passed over for promotions or other leadership opportunities. Unconscious bias also impacts the way people interact with each other in the workplace and can lead to unhealthy dynamics and toxic environments resulting in:

  • Reduced job satisfaction and motivation
  • Lower performance and productivity
  • Reduced creativity and innovation
  • Fewer positive work relationships
  • More stress and anxiety

Because unconscious biases can have a significant impact on the workplace, it is critical to increase awareness of their effects and eliminate unconscious biases to encourage a diverse and inclusive work environment.

What Can We Do to Foster Diversity and Inclusion?

To foster diversity and inclusion in your workplace, you must be aware of your own unconscious biases and how they impact the way you interact with others.

You can also encourage your colleagues to be mindful of their own biases by having open discussions about them, challenging assumptions when they arise, and seeking out different perspectives.

Some other ways to foster diversity and inclusion include:

  • Being sensitive to others’ backgrounds, experiences, and cultures.
  • Creating an environment where everyone is comfortable speaking up and sharing their views.
  • Encouraging employees to take advantage of training and development opportunities.
  • Promoting networking and mentorship opportunities between employees of different backgrounds.
  • Ensuring your recruitment process is diverse and inclusive, and that it actively seeks to add diversity of thought to the organization.

How Can We Stay Motivated Despite Challenges Along the Way?

It is challenging to remain motivated when there is so much work to be done. However, it’s important to remember that you are making a vital difference by promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in your workplace.

You should also take the time to celebrate small wins along the way, such as talking with a colleague about their own unconscious biases or helping someone find resources to overcome an obstacle in their career path.

Challenges may arise when you implement new processes and procedures, so your team must stay focused on the goal at hand. Over time, and with conscious effort, practices that increase acceptance and actively fight against unconscious bias will be seamlessly integrated into your workplace culture.

The Bottom Line

Unconscious bias can have a significant impact on employees and their work environments.

It is essential to be aware of your own biases and how they might influence your decisions or judgments.

We can use a few techniques to overcome unconscious bias, such as training yourself on unconscious bias, being mindful of the way you interact with others, challenging your assumptions, and seeking out different perspectives.

To foster diversity and inclusion in your workplace, you must create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and supported. Resources such as Fostering a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace can help you understand how your current organization and team operate.

And while staying motivated can be challenging, it’s important to remember why you’re fighting for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the first place: to improve the workplace for each and every employee. Each of us can make a difference by elevating these ideals in the workplace.

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