As a result of our own unique life experiences, we all develop a set of perceptions and assumptions about other people which are ingrained in us. This way of thinking, which enables us to quickly categorise an unfamiliar person or groups of people, is called bias.
Unconscious bias refers to judgements we make about other people which we’re unaware of and which happen outside of our control. For example, if you interview someone for a nursery apprentice role who is noticeably overweight, your unconscious bias may assume that they’re lazy.
If a person who is covered in tattoos and piercings applies for a nursery manager role, your unconscious bias might automatically assume they’re not suitable for working in childcare. However, if you took the time to dig a little deeper, how closely would reality match up with your assumptions?
You may find, in both of these examples, the very opposite is true.
If you’re involved with the recruitment side of your business and yet you’ve never heard of the term “unconscious bias” before, you’d be forgiven. Helen Jamieson, Director of HR consultancy firm Jaluch, explains why:
“Unconscious bias, when I first started delivering workshops on it 3 years ago, had barely been heard of and only a few curious souls turned up to our seminars. But by last year it had become the no 1 hot topic in HR with everyone wanting to know about it.”
So, how does this affect us in the workplace? Well, it could mean that, if we’re interviewing candidates for a vacancy, we could have a preference towards those who:
- Have the same nationality, sex or religion as us
- Have similar hobbies or interests to us
- Have a similar accent or dialect to us
- Those who dress similarly to us
- Those who appear physically fit/well groomed
- Those with a similar background to us
It could also mean that we hold a prejudice against those who look dissimilar in appearance to us, who’ve had a different upbringing to ours, who hold different values to us or whose hobbies and interests do not match ours.
In the workplace, the unconscious bias of a decision maker could mean that a competent, good quality candidate is passed over for a role in favour of someone who is not very well suited for the position. In a different context, it could also mean that one worker’s performance is critiqued or rewarded differently to another’s.
At the very worse end of the scale, unconscious bias can lead to friction between staff members and even employment tribunals.
So, is there are ‘miracle cure’ for this unseen workplace epidemic? A training course, perhaps? The solution to bring about change is not an easy one, explains Helen Jamieson:
“There is no such thing as a ‘miraculous’ training course, all behavioural change has to be achieved over a long period of time with steady and persistent hard work. Unconscious bias seminars that we deliver and that raise awareness of the issues are just the very first part in that process.”
Striking out against unconscious bias within your workplace may seem like a daunting task, but raising awareness amongst your staff so that they recognise it and are mindful to it will be very rewarding. Doing this will not only be in the interests of your business – it is also a great approach to model for children in Early Years so that they learn to embrace diversity and difference in later life.