Most of us believe we are rational and ethical. At the workplace, we believe we’re good decision makers, capable of objectively deciding about a job candidate or employee’s performance, and reaching a rational and fair conclusion about any particular business problem or situation. Yet it’s clear from more than two decades of research that we all have unconscious biases that impact more than 90% of our decisions.

Biases impact everyday behaviours in ways which are not easy to notice – the amount of time we take interviewing a particular candidate versus another, the amount of time we take introducing a particular person on a call versus another, do we wait for a particular person before starting a meeting but don’t do the same for another, the importance given to a question asked by a particular person versus someone else in a meeting. These micro-inequities/ behaviours affect the overall culture in an organization in more ways than we think.

Scores of studies document how unconscious bias affects workplace decisions. A study by Queensland University, for example, found that blond women’s salaries were 7 percent higher than women who were brunettes or redheads. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every 1 percent increase in a woman’s body mass, there was a .6 percent decrease in family income. A Duke University study found that “mature-faced” people had a career advantage over “baby-faced” people. And a Yale University study found that male and female scientists—trained to reject the subjective—were more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency than women, and pay them $4,000 more per year than women.

The most significant decisions at the workplace where unconscious bias gets reflected as per the Forbes Council study of 2017 are hiring , performance evaluations, delegation, promotion & succession planning, innovation and building high performance teams.

Why you cannot afford to live with Bias?

Bias, whether perceived or real, affects company performance. A recent study from the non-profit Center for Talent Innovation measured the impact on employees who perceive implicit bias in the workplace. Consider these findings:

  • Employees at large companies who perceive bias are nearly three times as likely (20% vs. 7%) to be disengaged at work.
  • Bias impacts retention. Those who perceive bias are more than three times as likely (31% to 10%) to say that they’re planning to leave their current jobs within the year.
  • Bias impedes innovation. Those who perceive bias are 2.6 times more likely (34% to 13%) to say that they’ve withheld ideas and market solutions over the previous six months.

How to overcome or start dealing with it?

One thing employee engagement and unconscious bias share in common is that they are both improved by honest conversations. Three sure-shot ways to address the issue of bias creep at the workplace is to offer continuous bias awareness training, label the biases existing at the workplace and talk about it and create structures which support elimination of those biases and keeping them in check.

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