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What we learnt about Unconscious Bias

Last month we rebooted Creative Workforce for the Future, announcing our online programme of training and development opportunities for creative SMEs in the West of England. We have been delighted to welcome our first workshop participants from companies committed to developing employment practices that embrace inclusion and diversity as an asset.

Our opening session explored Unconscious Bias. Facilitator Elonka Soros deftly unpicked how the bias inherent in all of us impacts our decisions and actions.

Despite the incredible difficulties companies are facing due to the current public health crisis, it was incredibly exciting and encouraging to see the workshop full to bursting with companies eager to learn and make change together. Here are a few things participants learnt:

  • Only 1% of our processes are conscious. Constant exposure to stereotypes, including negative portrayals of people of colour, women and those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, influences our decision-making to the detriment of our businesses and to us as human beings. Business leaders need to be aware of this. Workforces will make better decisions with a range of voices included at the table.
  • Micro-inequities and messaging, including ephemeral and hard to prove events, can happen in workplaces when ‘difference’ is perceived. From checking e-mails or texting in meetings whilst people are speaking, to consistently mispronouncing someone’s name, to making disrespectful comments or jokes – a drip feed of conscious and unconscious events will eventually cause the bucket to overflow.
  • If you are in a position of privilege (and we looked at what that meant), you can lever it to support inclusion and turn awareness into positive action. But being aware is just a small step on the journey of change. As leaders and employers, you have to broadcast your intentions constantly until they become pervasive and the norm.
  • Making change is a long-term investment. Modifying recruitment practices is often the first place where intention and action meets for businesses. But it is only one part of the puzzle. To make long lasting, effective change business leaders need to zoom in on transforming work cultures and HR practices. ‘Diversifying’ in itself has little structural effect on creating a healthy, sustainable workforce.

The workshop struck a skilful balance of being informative, hard hitting, uncomfortable, yet friendly and empowering. Participants left with an understanding of inherent biases and what effects these can have in the workplace and on the workforce.

It was also clear that business leaders need to actively transform practice and culture to create workplaces with equal access to opportunities and resources, where individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, and all have agency in the organisation’s success. This is how we will build inclusive, future facing, resilient organisations.

Our next sessions will delve into some of the issues we touched on here, so sign up now, and join us to explore ‘Inclusive Work Environments’ (fully booked) and ‘Inclusive Leadership’ in July. 

If you’re interested in reading more about Unconscious Bias, we suggest: 

The Guardian series on ‘Bias Britain’ (2018):  

Unconscious bias: what is it and can it be eliminated? 
Bias in Britain: what can employers, the government and you do about it? 

Rife Magazine

Jasmin Thompson describes how seemingly invisible and perpetual behaviours can exclude people at work: It’s still not what you know, it’s who you know 


Book:  

Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Avoid Terrible Advice, Cognitive Biases, and Poor Decisions) by Gleb Tsipursky 

Test:

Take an Unconscious Bias test via Project Implicit and begin to understand more about where you may have biases.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash