A few years ago when Youtube launched the video upload feature in their app, they were surprised to notice that 5-10% of videos uploaded were appearing upside-down. How could there be a knowledge gap in such a simple process? What the research showed was that Google developers had unintentionally created the app for right-handed users. With the help of unconscious bias, Google had developed an app with right-handed users in mind and didn’t realise that phones were usually rotated 180 degrees when held in a person’s left hand. (1)
While race, gender and age are often associated with unconscious bias, in reality it covers a broader spectrum. So what is unconscious bias and what can we do about it?
They are biases that we are unaware of and occur outside of our conscious control. Unconscious bias happens automatically and is triggered by the brain making quick judgements about people and situations, influencing how they view the world. It’s the brain’s shortcut to processing all the messages it is exposed to at every moment.
Unconscious Bias at work
Much of the research on diversity and inclusion show that embracing these values in the workplace can be a competitive advantage to organisations. Addressing the biases we have can help an organisation move towards greater diversity and inclusion.
- The margin by which companies with a greater proportion of female board directors outperform others.
- Firms with females in C-suite roles generated more in revenue on average.
- Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones and are associated with increased sales revenue, greater market share and relative profits, and are better at problem solving. (3)
The cost of bias in the workplace doesn’t just result in a monetary loss. There can be a loss to morale, issues with retention, absenteeism, and lack of trust, engagement, and productivity. Given these negative outcomes, why aren’t organisations making it an obvious priority to eliminate bias from the workplace? While it may sound simple in theory, we know that changing the way people think is far more challenging. Studies have shown that trying to limit bias through scheduled training programs can have the opposite effect and make people’s bias more entrenched or even provoke a backlash. (2)
What can we do about unconscious bias?
- We can start by recognising that we all have biases and identify and understand what those biases are.
- Examine what we can do differently in terms of our behaviour and re-frame our conversations to focus on fairness and respect.
- Design organisational systems and processes to ‘work around’ the bias.
- Develop action plans around the most impactful changes to implement within the organisation. (3)
“All That We Share”, Danish TV station TV2’s powerful message is that there’s more that brings us together than we think.
Gaining an understanding of unconscious bias can lead to a new level of discussions around diversity and inclusion. But it all starts with commitment and the willingness to act.
Are you part of an organisation that has addressed unconscious bias? Let us know in the comment section below.
1. Bock, L. (2014). You don’t know what you don’t know: How our unconscious minds undermine the workplace.
2. Clegg, A. (2017). Unconscious bias hinders diversity recruitment Training has proved inadequate at removing innate prejudices.
3. Crawford, S. (2017). Unconscious Bias – Pinnacle Group.
4. Rock, D. (2009). Your Brain at Work.