Q. How should unconscious bias be managed in the workplace?
A. Unconscious bias occurs when individuals express [or hold] pre-determined opinions about others based on specific characteristics and experiences such as race, age or educational background.
Although this is unintended and non-malicious, it has the potential to impact a business in several ways. It can prevent individuals from being hired or current staff from receiving a well-earned promotion.
Unfortunately, unconscious bias can be difficult to spot. Therefore, employers are advised to act in a preventative manner to protect their business from the dangers associated with it.
Reviewing job applications and CVs to decide who to invite to an interview can be a difficult task at the best of times, however employers must be careful not to allow unconscious bias to impact who is chosen for the interview stage.
Studies have suggested that applicants from certain groups are less likely to be asked to an interview because of the unconscious bias that may be associated with their names.
To prevent this, employers should consider removing names and other identifying characteristics from applications so this cannot be factored into decision making.
Unconscious bias can also occur during the interview itself and employers should take care not to ask any interview questions that relate to protected characteristics, such as race, sexuality or marital status.
The information gleaned from these questions could unknowingly influence decision making and lead to claims of discrimination if the individual is not offered the job.
Additionally, it is advisable to have multiple interviewers present, preferably of differing genders, to ensure hiring decisions are not dominated by one person’s opinion and to guard against gender bias.
Unconscious bias can also occur in performance reviews and impact an employee’s career progression at work.
To prevent this all employees should be given clear targets, tailored to their specific job role, against which their performance can be accurately measured. This should provide suitable evidence and lead to a clear, nonpartisan performance review.
Promotions and bonuses are other instances where employers may accidentally fall foul of unconscious bias, with many commentators regularly attributing this to the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in senior roles.
To avoid this taking place, employers should set clear and fair targets for progression, perhaps by introducing designated job bands, which will allow them to determine without dispute when an employee is performing to a level that is deserving of promotion.
Employees in the same positions should always be graded and monitored in the same way, with any major decisions on staff bonuses being a collective one between managers and HR personnel to reduce the chance of bias.
While bias training may be beneficial to increase awareness among those with managerial responsibility, the key is to ensure important decisions on things such as hiring and promotions are made collectively and based on a clear designated framework.