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What is Implicit Bias and is it Affecting Your Business?

Implicit bias has the potential to seriously affect your business. In the modern workplace, diversity of opinion is important, and without an awareness of your biases you may end up losing out on this valuable resource. In this post we’re going to look at what implicit bias is and what you can do about it.

What Is An Implicit Bias?

An implicit bias is a tendency to view something in a certain way in preference to alternative options. This can refer to anything: a person, a group, a situation, a decision or even a type of food.

An implicit bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from rationality that affects the way you search for, evaluate, interpret, judge, use and remember information. It can also affect the way you make decisions.

Implicit biases tend to be unconscious or hidden, as opposed to prejudices which an individual or group often are aware of.


Where Do Implicit Biases Come From?

Many people think they are rational beings, but as science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once said, ‘we could be better described as rationalising beings.’ Humans make decisions and evaluate people and situations based on incomplete information. Why incomplete? Because it is impossible to obtain complete information about a situation or another person.

An implicit bias can be viewed as a shortcut that allows us to jump to a speedy conclusion or judgement without having to evaluate a person or situation in depth. This is important as the brain prefers quick conclusions to conserve energy. In-depth research and evaluation requires effort and is time consuming.


The Impact of Implicit Biases

Often there is absolutely no need to check our decisions for biases. Why? Because whether we have a preference for chocolate bar x or chocolate bar y is not a very important life decision for most people.

However, for important decisions such as recruitment, succession planning, investments and other complex situations it would be preferable to make decisions that are actually grounded in facts and evidence based information.

By not checking decisions for implicit biases in complex situations it is possible to make a flawed decisions with severe consequences..


How To Identify Implicit Biases

If biases are hidden, though, how can you ensure that they do not influence your thought processes and decision making?

Mostly by looking at the results of your decisions. An example of which is recruiting the same type of candidate.

It might take a third party to point this out to you, or you may begin to wonder why your team is so homogenous and lacking in diversity you may realise all of your team members have the same educational background. Perhaps they even studied at the same University.

Rather than rationalising that you hired those candidates because they ' fit in', it would be useful to ask yourself what those candidates have in common that makes you prefer them to someone from a different background, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and so on.


How To Manage Implicit Biases

A good place to start would be to ask someone without any intellectual or emotional investment in your decision/s to question and challenge you. And, if you are unable to respond with reasons other than that it feels right and you have always done it this way, you may wish to accept that your decisions may be biased and worthy of further exploration.

In order to manage implicit biases more effectively it is vital to have a healthy level of self-awareness and an appreciation that everyone has biases. The willingness to positively challenge ingrained organisational processes, systems and ways of working, so that these can be replaced with more effective, balanced and rational approaches is a good place to start.


Implicit Bias Training

A worthwhile unconscious bias training course will not only help you and your colleagues improve your self-awareness, but you will also become more conscious of your own and others’ biases. It will give you many practical tools for challenging biases, mitigating their effects and reaching more objective, considered decisions.

Want more information? Download our unconscious bias training PDF.

Everyone was highly impressed with the facilitation and content of the training.
B Paniyatou
 - HR Manager, Capel Manor College

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