Unconscious Bias at Work and How to Stop It

Group of racially diverse young adults in workplace smiling at camera.

Biases are natural because our environment forms them. “We develop biases and perspectives as reactions to experiences that prepare us for evaluating information that we will encounter in the future,” Eleftherios Soleas, an adjunct professor of education at Queen’s University in Ontario, wrote for The Conversation.

Some biases can be inconsequential—like a bias towards fruity-flavored drinks over sour drinks. However, we all also carry consequential biases. They may affect how we treat others based on our own perceptions of any combination of attributes – physical, racial, religious and more. That treatment can impact how people feel valued and welcomed in their workplaces.

There are hundreds of available trainings that address biases in the workplace. However, a recent Harvard Business Review article noted, that more is needed. “Unconscious bias training rarely changes actual behaviors and has little impact on explicit biases,” wrote Lily Zheng, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategist and executive coach.

As Zheng explains, these interventions fail because DEI practitioners need more standardization, consistency, and accountability. Additionally, the sessions should be long-term with follow-ups to help reinforce lessons.

In her article, Zheng suggests that employers and employees dedicated to becoming aware of and eliminating biases in the workplace should take into account the following tips:

-DEI is a broad category. Specify the exact DEI challenges in the environment in order to select the right specialist who can help target future trainings accordingly.

-To avoid underestimating the time and resources required for long-term transformation, have the right experts inform the strategy and budget that will lead to results.

-In addition to measuring the input of the trainings, companies and employees should create and measure tangible outcomes, like anonymous surveys with improvement targets.

Through active planning, we can all understand our biases, dismantle the harmful ones we hold, and help improve the workplace for ourselves and others.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.


Subscribe to Our Newsletter