From the day we’re born, we’re unconsciously absorbing what is around us.
Whether it’s through the voices of our parents, at school or online, we’re forming internal opinions and dialogue about people, places, and things. These learnings mean that we’re all carrying some form of unconscious bias and a specific set of value judgements.
As unsettling as that may seem, it can present an enormous opportunity for growth as human beings. So, what do you need to know about unconscious bias and how does it play into the places where we work and the people we work with?
Here are five things to consider:
1. Be self-aware
Unconscious bias is the thoughts and feelings we have towards others. As learned behaviour it shows up as an automatic response to social interactions. Being self-aware of your own actions and reactions and consciously changing how you engage helps drive change. Project Implicit is one of the largest studies into bias. The research produces new ways of understanding attitudes and other hidden biases that influence perception and judgment. It offers some insightful information including a confidential test that will really get you thinking.
2. Challenge your beliefs at work
If you work for a business that prioritises and promotes diversity, then chances are you may already have programmes about unconscious bias established. Whatever you’ve learned, there’s always opportunities for improvement whether it’s challenging your own perception of the people you work with or continually striving to be more objective. One of the best ways to challenge your beliefs is to consider each situation from the perspective of your colleague. Holding yourself accountable for your opinions and questioning why you react in certain ways is a conscious commitment. There is no better place to start than at work
3. Speak up at work
This can be a tricky one. What you do or say is dependent on your place of work. If the environment, you work in lacks tolerance it might be best to find somewhere that actively promotes diversity. However, if it’s general conversations where you feel a colleague is being unfairly treated there are ways of speaking up without having to raise your concerns with human resources or management. It’s particularly important to tread carefully, taking care not to alienate the person affected and to voice your concern in a way that’s respectful to them.
4. Become culturally competent
Are you sitting beside the same colleagues every day? Sharing lunch with a few close work friends? If so, consider stepping outside your comfort zone. Talking to colleagues that you don’t know well or sitting next to someone different, is a wonderful way to learn more about people. When we get to know a range of people from diverse backgrounds, we learn new things that challenge our thinking, and we better understand where each person is coming from.
5. Question your internal dialogue
We all have an internal dialogue or inner voice that’s constantly using the information around us to form opinions. Research shows that while most of us form opinions about someone within the first 30-60 seconds of meeting, these are often false. If we don’t spend any more time around that person, that falsehood still sits firmly in our unconscious. That’s why it’s important to challenge our inner dialogue often. Ask yourself how well you know someone when that inner voice cuts in and the answer will likely be ‘not very well.’ By acknowledging that our belief has limitations we’re raising our awareness of the biases we have.
Unconscious bias in the workplace can limit our growth as individuals and impact on our opportunities to learn from others. By being aware of your own unconscious biases and choosing to challenge yourself by stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’ll contribute to a workplace that embraces diversity and empowers all employees.