Why you're probably a victim of unconscious bias (and what you can do about it)

May 29 2018, 4:41 am

So, here’s the truth: unconscious bias hides in all of us, influencing our decisions and actions.

It’s the quick judgments and assessments that we make of people and situations without even being aware of what we’re doing. But what makes us do this? Well, our unconscious bias is often influenced by our personal experiences, backgrounds, and sociocultural stereotypes.

To help explain how unconscious bias affects us and what we can do about it, we sought the expertise of Wyle Baoween, advisory committee member of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade‘s Women’s Leadership Circle, and founder of Vancouver-based firm for diversity and inclusion, HRx Technology.

How it affects us as individuals

Wyle Baoween/Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

“Unconscious bias affects how we make decisions and even how we live. Individually, our biases determine the people we surround ourselves with, the neighbourhoods we choose to live in, and the societies we build,” says Baoween. For you, it might only impact the way you walk to work, or the coffee you drink.

How it affects organizations

“In the workplace, these biases are proven to negatively impact select groups of people, such as women. For example, bias creates gender inequalities in business where women are less represented in senior leadership positions, earn less, and are faced with greater barriers building their professional careers compared with their male colleagues.”

Baoween adds that unconscious bias can negatively impact the lives of others around us when it comes to decisions such as hiring employees, promoting them, or even deciding how much they are paid.

What you can do to help address your unconscious bias

We are all biased and “rely on our biases to function in daily life,” he says. However, he believes there are ways we can reduce the impact these biases have on our decision making. A few examples include:

  • Accepting we are all biased. This creates a sense of awareness and is the first step to making change. People and organizations who understand they might be biased, are better in addressing the issue.
  • Slow down and reserve judgment. Taking extra time or asking for a second opinion can help highlight areas of bias.
  • Rely on people around you to help you identify your biases. This requires a strong foundation of trust and humility.
  • Establish a structured process and clear criteria for making decisions.

What companies can do

“We have seen a trend over the past few years where organizations across all sectors are beginning to recognize the negative impact of unconscious bias and are seeking solutions to build stronger, more inclusive teams,” Baoween adds.

A few steps he suggests that organizations can take include:

Raise awareness: Training is a practical tool to generate awareness of unconscious bias. It starts to bring consciousness to the decisions we make as individuals and as organizations. Investing in training also sends a message that tackling bias and fostering an inclusive workplace is a business priority. Training can be a valuable first step but alone will not solve the problem.

Identify the problem: Before embarking on a resource-intensive journey to combat bias, it is important to understand why this is important for your company. To realize benefits such as cost savings, increased engagement and access to talent, leaders first need to define the connection with their business goals. Whether you’re a small business or multinational enterprise owner, defining your unique business case is a critical step in creating change and measuring progress.

Data-driven analysis and technology solutions: Data analytics provide concrete measures of where bias exists in an organization. For example, data can be collected to pinpoint barriers women face in recruitment, retention, pay, and promotions. It is also an important way of measuring progress for an organization. In addition, there are several technology tools to address bias that exist in organizational processes such as hiring.

Women’s Leadership Circle/Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Women’s Leadership Circle

If you’re interested in networking with business leaders who share a similar interest to promote increased diversity in the BC community, you can consider joining the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade’s Women’s Leadership Circle (WLC).

WLC has grown to become one of Canada’s largest women’s business networking groups, and the program also encourages men, like Baoween, to join as they’re recognized as an important part of the discussions around diversity, equality, and unconscious bias.

See also

“The Women’s Leadership Circle is a place for business professionals who are passionate about gender equity to make meaningful change – and no, you don’t have to be a woman to join. In fact, the benefit of this group is that it brings together a diverse group of business leaders who share a similar interest but each through a different lens,” Baoween adds.

“Members leave WLC events with a better understanding of various issues related to workplace equity, bias and equal opportunity along with new business contacts, skills, and ideas,” he concludes.

Find out more about the Women’s Leadership Circle by visiting the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.


Daily Hive is a proud media sponsor of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade 

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