Creating inclusive teams at work by defeating unconscious bias

Modern organisations of our times believe that diversity of staff brings more value and productivity to a company. To form an ethnically diverse workforce, they provide equal opportunities to individuals from all walks of life.

When hiring, promoting or assigning responsibilities among staff members they consider the talents, qualifications and capabilities of candidates. There is no discrimination based on age, race, gender, weight, religion, sexual orientation and the vast array of other dividing factors that exist in our minds. 

Yet, who can raise their hands up if they never felt they were not chosen to do a particular job or not assigned to a certain project or a task at work, because the decision maker was unconsciously favouring another candidate or a co-worker? Or can we actually look back in our own career and say that there wasn't at least a one single moment that we got upset or hurt over  by unintentional comment made by a fellow coworker? In my opinion most of us can recall a such memory. Most of us can honestly admit that we have felt this way at least once in our career. We often may have even tried to dismiss that thought, trying to convince ourselves it’s all in our head. But sometimes it actually may not be the case.

All individuals in an organisation, including the ones in senior management share one thing in common - we are all human. Let's face it! Although we have a highly advanced brain than any other animal in the animal kingdom, sometimes our primal, animalistic nature can surface when dealing with extremely difficult circumstances. No matter how much we try implementing policies and best practices based upon mutual agreements, there are times that decisions are made, statements have been announced and actions are taken under the influence of these unconscious biases towards a certain individual or a group of individuals.

Bias is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences. 

There are two types of biases

1. Conscious bias (also known as Explicit bias) 

2. Unconscious bias (also known as Implicit bias)

Unconscious bias /Implicit bias

Human brains are barraged with approximately 11 million bits of information every second, yet our brain cells are only equipped to consciously process about 40 bits. Where does all the remaining unconsciously processed information go to? This information becomes engraved deeply into our subconscious mind in which we carry our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. These subconscious pieces of information are stored and converted into deep-rooted biases that form the basis of every quick snap of judgement we make - whether it's good or bad, and whether we like it or not. 

Unconscious biases work as survival mechanisms, helping humans to better navigate through the constant bombardment of information, to make decisions based on instincts rather than logic. It is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios or situations can stimulate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. For example, biases may be more visible when a person is multitasking or working under time pressure.

Micro-aggression is one of the common negative manifestation of unconscious bias. A favouration towards a certain individual or group of individuals causes both positive and negative impacts in a workplace. Even the subtle amounts of unconscious behaviour displayed through body language or choice of words are absorbed by people surrounded by us. Individuals may not intend to release any sort of negativity especially at their office, yet it happens sometimes and it impacts everyone in the vicinity.

One must understand given the true nature of human beings it’s impossible to completely eliminate the unconscious bias from a workplace. However, we could still implement processes and programs to combat the impacts of unconscious biases and work towards building inclusive teams. 

Inclusive teams are characterised by open communication, transparent decision making and creativity. They offer a productive work climate with trust, respect and mutual understanding. 

Some of the initiatives a company could take towards establishing inclusive teams; 

  • Developing a brief vision statement related to teamwork and inclusion for your organisation
  • Establishing processes for communicating information consistently, collecting feedback and offering criticism in a constructive manner 
  • Reminding your staff time to time why an inclusive culture is important (to enhance productivity, improve communication, boost problem-solving skills and foster retention) 
  • Whenever possible, organising events and programs outside work where team members are encouraged to break ice/get to know each other 
  • Not using all of staff meeting time for “information dump.” Making an effort to occasionally change the meeting format. Facilitating staff meetings to invite participation, explore ideas and enable two-way dialogues.
  • Not allowing exclusionary or intolerant behaviour to go unaddressed. Responding to behaviours that mock, shame, insult or injure staff members, in an efficient and respectful manner. 

Building diverse and inclusive teams is not easy. It takes time, dedication and perseverance. The company and all its people must be willing to move beyond discussion and good intentions to real and  measurable actions when it comes building inclusion within diverse teams.

Created: October 26th, 2016


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