How Leaders Can Tackle Implicit Bias in the Workplace

Even without intending to do so, you will sometimes find yourself harbouring some stereotypical thoughts about your colleagues and subordinates. This implicit bias can inadvertently steer the organisation as whole off course due to the decisions you make.

However progressive you might deem yourself, you still have some prejudices that affect everything you do. We all have these prejudices against people that don’t look, think or act as we do.

The Perception Institute asserts that the majority of our thoughts occur without our active input. In other words, we act on our prejudices without even noticing that we’re doing so.

In a workplace that tries to be inclusive, this can be a problem if not handled correctly. Your melting pot of different cultures can overflow when these diverse tendencies clash. You should, therefore, be in a position to ensure that everyone understands the other and gets along without stepping on toes.

It’s also important to note that your company’s reputation hinges on how well you handle this implicit bias in your workplace. New talent won’t want to come to join you if your corporate culture is tone deaf or counter progressive. Similarly, you will find that your employee turnover goes through the roof.

In today’s world that is paying more and more attention to the socio-political realities we live in, it’s more important than ever for organisation to decisively address issues of implicit bias arising from racism, sexism, classism, queer marginalisation and other forms of structural oppression.

So, how exactly can you control a problem that seems just at the edge of your realm of mental control?

How to tackle implicit bias in your workplace

Despite the fact that actions resulting from implicit bias are mostly not within the limits of our conscious thought, there are still some ways you can use in order to ensure that you don’t alienate your employees. Here are some ways in which you can mitigate the implicit bias at work.

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Identify your biases and prejudices

The human mind works in such a manner that it collects all the information presented to it and packages in a manner convenient to it. When certain situations present themselves, the brain instantaneously pulls information along these preformed routes to make you act. This makes it hard for you to even realise that your actions were prejudiced.

Therefore, before you can root out the implicit bias at your place of work, you need to identify it. So, before you form an opinion about someone at work, think it through and find out whether it is factually true in that instance or is it always true.

Learn about the diverse cultures in your workplace

If you are intent on cutting out the implicit bias in your workplace, you need to educate yourself about the different cultures that make up your workforce. In fact, it’s advisable to invite all those who want to attend to come to this diversity training.

However, you should keep in mind that this shouldn’t be a must. For many who are in the minority, this mandatory diversity training can be uncomfortable. Some even see it as management doing it so that they can justify the inclusive and diverse tag on the culture section of the company’s website.

Internal employee surveys are also a good way to find out about the actions that go against inclusivity in your workplace. The questions in the survey need to be comprehensive so that you not only get the qualitative but also the quantitative side of things.

If everything goes according to plan, you will be more observant of those prejudices that flew under the radar before at the workplace.

Actively thinking things through before acting

With things in your subconscious happening before you can even tell, it can be really hard to prevent acting on your biases. However, due to the way the brain is set up, you can almost always unlearn something that you have unconsciously believed all through life.

When you’re dealing with a colleague at work, you should slow your thinking process before making any outward facing decision. This becomes especially a tad easier when you have already identified what prejudices you might harbour against certain members of your workforce.

If the interaction is becoming heated or less cordial, you should pay particular attention to what you say. This is because it is harder to keep wraps on your subconscious when you are emotional or riled up.

implicit bias

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Put yourself in your employees’ shoes

In order to prevent prejudices from forming your decisions regarding your employees, put yourself in their shoes. By observing things from their perspective, you will be able to see how your actions will affect them.

This study showed that the diversity training programs that utilised this method were more successful in limiting implicit bias in the workplace in the long term. What’s even more advantageous about this method is that it’ll go a long way in reversing the connections in your mind that make you subconsciously biased.

Act to right any wrongs

At the heart of any implicit bias is the subconscious. What this means is that there will be moments when your actions —however innocuous — will be construed as prejudiced by your employee.

On finding out that you were biased, you should apologise and engage the employee to let you know what you did wrong and how you should act in the future. In the event that a similar situation presents itself, you will be in a position to act fairly.

In Summary

Your mind has stored information all through your life in a way that has given you some prejudices against certain people based on their age, race or sex. Even when you’re not trying to be unfair, this implicit bias will affect your decisions regarding these people in your workplace.

You should, therefore, be in apposition to identify these biases and take action to root them out. A diverse and inclusive workplace will bode well for your business in the long run.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.