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Top 10 Unconscious Bias Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

Unconscious biases lurk within most of us, and as the name suggests, we aren’t even aware of them. Also known as implicit biases, they can be defined as judgements we subconsciously hold against others that affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions towards those certain people.

These micro-aggressions are ingrained in us, usually from childhood, from a variety of sources: family, geography, culture, and the media, to name a few. They usually rely on stereotypes and, more often than not, result in discriminatory behaviour.

It’s a big problem: one survey showed that 50% of British minorities say people don’t realise they treat them differently because of their ethnicity, and in another survey, 39% said they experienced bias frequently in the workplace. Organisations need to manage unconscious bias effectively if they wish to remain productive: 68% said that witnessing or experiencing bias had a negative impact on their productivity.

In this article, we’ll list the most common unconscious bias mistakes and how to avoid them, so let’s get started.

1) Gender

Gender bias is one of the most common biases seen in the workplace and usually isn’t even unconscious. The stereotype of men being superior to women goes back millennia and is still popularly portrayed to this day. From most CEOs being men to the widely reported gender pay gap, you don’t have to look far to see examples of this bias. Easily avoid this bias by setting diversity goals and conducting blind screenings by removing names, gender, and interests from applications.

2) Ageism

This bias means judging people based on how old they are and affects older people more than younger people. Workplaces tend to value younger workers more and will give them more opportunities and promotions, despite the fact that older workers have a lot of benefits that come with age and experience. Make sure that you debunk the issue of ageism by offering training, varying the age of your team, and keeping age diversity in mind when it comes to hiring and promotions.

3) Confirmation

Confirmation bias is when you make a snap judgement about someone based on your own personal beliefs, desires, or prejudices instead of on facts. This will usually rear its head right at the start of the hiring process when reviewing a CV, such as where the candidate is from, where they went to school or what their interests are. Always stick to standardised questions that are skills-based to ensure everyone is given the same chance.

4) Attribution

Similar to confirmation bias, attribution bias means that you base your opinion on someone based on past observations and interactions you’ve had with that person. This is an incredibly natural process but could lead to making errors if you don’t know someone’s full story. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt when interviewing or reading their CV, and give them a chance to explain any action that gives you doubt.

5) The Halo Effect

Simply put, this is when you put someone on a pedestal and treat them with respect after you’ve seen or read something impressive about them, such as where they went to school or an award they’ve won. Of course, when you’re reviewing candidates, you’re looking for their special achievements, but avoid the halo effect by looking at what else the candidate has done and seeing how their experiences and qualities compare to others.

6) The Horn Effect

The exact opposite of the halo effect, the horn effect is when you judge someone after learning something negative about them. Avoid this one with empathy; try to figure out exactly why you have a negative feeling about the person, and ask for your team’s opinions in an unbiased way to clear the air.

7) Beauty

It’s a sad fact that people deemed beautiful or good-looking by society typically make more money and are seen as better qualified and more competent than others. It’s possible to sidestep this by using a phone interview prior to an in-person one and to create a structured and standardised hiring process so that your team can compare candidates equally based on merit.

8) Affinity

Also known as similarity bias, this is when people connect to others based on shared interests, experiences and backgrounds. An easy mistake to make and an enemy of diversity — avoid it by making notes of any similarities candidates have so that you can put them to one side and instead focus on their skills and experiences instead.

9) Conformity

This can be a problem for the hiring team. It’s when people change their opinions to match those of the group to fit in; you’ve probably heard it mentioned as “peer pressure”. Make sure that everyone accurately gives their opinions on candidates by getting them to write down their thoughts first so that they can come together after an interview and compare notes.

10) Non-Verbal Bias

We’ve all read the tips on how to ace an interview: make eye contact, open body language, and give a strong handshake. But what if a candidate fails to do these things? Does that mean they’re unqualified? Of course not, so don’t let this unconscious bias creep in. Concentrate on their skills and experiences instead of on their nerves, and try to focus on inclusion — after all, everyone is different.

If you want to learn more about unconscious bias and the tools needed to minimise it, then check out our Introduction to Unconscious Bias course. We offer a range of courses that inspire your workforce, improve innovation and build trust. Boost engagement and build a world-class team with one of our transformative workshops today.

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