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Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
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Employee Experience

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

In an effort to create more diversity-friendly workplaces, tech giants

like Google and Facebook have been training employees to recognize their

unconscious biases. As the term implies, these biases are below the

surface, unintended, and often undesired. They’re implicit rather than


Explicit biases are evident in what people say and do, and chances are

those who have such prejudices are aware of them. The manager who talks

negatively about “the millennials” knows she holds the younger

generation in low regard. The person who uses racist slurs doesn’t try

to hide his dislike of other races. The executive who believes women

shouldn’t be in leadership roles avoids recommending a female

subordinate for promotion. These biases are all on the surface.

Consequently, it’s relatively easy to see the connection between these

individuals’ prejudices and their behavior in the workplace.

Not so with implicit or unconscious biases. Without realizing it, we may

prefer to associate with younger people rather than older people, or

enjoy the company of women more than men, or react more amicably to

people of our own race. More concerning: we may unconsciously associate

one group with positive stereotypes and another group with negative

ones. Recent studies in psychology suggest that we all have implicit

biases and that these biases influence our decisions.

In the workplace, these implicit biases lead to micro-aggressions —small

slights or offenses that may go mostly unnoticed, but can add up to

systematic discrimination or even a hostile work environment. Research

shows , for example, that resumes with white-sounding names are more

likely to get callbacks than resumes with black-sounding names. And it’s

not because companies have official policies or practices against hiring

minorities; it’s the result of unconscious bias.

Unfortunately for those affected, unconscious bias is difficult to

prove. It’s one thing to demonstrate that resumes with white-sounding

names get more callbacks; it’s quite another to prove that a particular

hiring manager gave special treatment to white applicants in a specific

instance. And even if we could demonstrate implicit biases in the

workplace, penalizing people may not be the best way to address the

behavior. After all, they’re not deliberately chosen or the consequence

of willful neglect.

So what’s the solution? The jury is still out on that.

Some companies are trying to make their employees more aware of their

unconscious biases by having them take implicit association tests. As of

now, however, we don’t yet know how effective these “raise awareness”

efforts will prove to be—if they have any positive effect at all.

Alternatively, some companies are using hiring applications that hide

identifying information so that race, gender, and other protected

classes can’t be taken into account early in the interview process.

While these indirect efforts won’t remove people’s unconscious biases,

they may help mitigate their effects on employment decisions, thereby

reducing discrimination in the workplace.

Are you looking for your own expert HR advice and assistance? Look no

further than Paycor’s HR Support Center and On-Demand to address your

concerns and mitigate compliance risks. Click

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Source: HR Support Center

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