Combating Unconscious Bias with Conscious Efforts Towards Inclusive Leadership

Understanding unconscious bias requires introspection. It requires people to analyze their worldview and understand its impact on the people with whom they interact. Unconscious bias is prevalent in every sphere of life. However, it is most evident and damaging in the workplace, where people from every background engage, interact, and work together. The onus to combat it falls on the leadership. In other words, they have to make a conscious effort to understand their unconscious bias and develop an inclusive leadership style.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Biases of any kind are essentially shortcuts created by our brain to help us function “efficiently.” Their role is simple: process the routine information we come across and automate our reactions to repetitive pieces of information. They are usually a product of our limited experiences or second-hand knowledge.

Think of unconscious bias as an automatic judgment our mind makes about a person when we see them without even thinking about it. The judgments can be about their intent, nature, character, competency, or something else.

An unconscious bias can cost companies good candidates – hire less competent people, suffer the loss of customers, witness reduced profits, and face many other business challenges. To run an inclusive, effective, and successful organization, it is crucial to identify the blind spots in leadership created and nurtured by unconscious biases.

How Even the Giants Falter

Unconscious bias is hard to fathom. After all, we hold on to them because they “feel” right or truths to us. When YouTube launched its iOS app, it encountered a peculiar problem – 5-10% of all the uploaded videos were upside down. That is not an insignificant number, and so many users can’t be shooting videos incorrectly. The developers would later find out an eye-opening fact.

The app was designed by an exclusively right-handed team for right-handed users. They ultimately failed to understand that the phone would be rotated a complete 180o by the left-handed users to shoot.

An interesting thing to note here is that the cultural shock does not arise from ethnically diverse populations only. It The problem was corrected, and Google set out to educate its teams on the perils of unconscious biases. They developed a workshop to help their employees understand the nuances of their biases, and in doing so, improve their performance and the company’s products.

Finding a Solution With Inclusive Leadership

Not every business has the near-unlimited resources of Google, but they all can resolve many of their organizational issues by tackling unconscious biases in their leadership. Business leaders can counter their own biases using:

  • Data-Backed Decisions

Gather data about the employee make-up, interview processes, performance reviews, and more, to understand how the organization makes its everyday decisions. It helps in uncovering existing biases.

  • Improved Standards

Leaders should ensure that structures and processes are in place to provide equal opportunities to every employee.

  • Being Mindful

Leaders should make an effort to raise issues of unconscious biases in meeting rooms so that employees are also aware of the organization’s priorities and function more mindfully and inclusively.

  • Approaching Fair Vs. Just

Inclusive leaders who want to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace should also make a deliberate effort to improve employee perceptions of fairness and justice. They can do it by establishing fair reward systems, include employees in decisions and explaining outcomes, and tailor their communication to match employee needs. It’s also important for the leaders to provide a real picture of the exiting situation to manage unrealistic expectations.

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