June 28, 2017

Women in Leadership Meeting Recap: How are Our Organizations Dealing with Unconscious Bias?


*UPDATE - A WIL member has provided a couple of videos regarding unconscious bias:

Also, she suggests to review Harvard’s project implicit which helps you find out your implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics. In the “Project Implicit Social Attitudes” section, select the United States in the “continue as guest” section and click Go!  Click “I wish to proceed.”  Then you may choose from one of several options, such as Gender-Career Implicit Association Task.


Do you think you have biases towards others? Do you have biases that control your decisions and actions? Whether you would admit it or not, the answer is most likely yes. We all have unconscious biases that impact our decisions and actions which unknowingly impacts our everyday lives. At last week’s Women in Leadership group meeting, Silvia Hinton, VP of Barriers to Entry at York Solutions, facilitated a discussion on these unconscious biases, the impact they have in the workplace, and how organizations are dealing with them. Thanks to Silvia, members walked away with a better understanding of such a common occurrence that has an impact on everyone.  

What even is an unconscious bias? According to Sandy Sparks with The Warwick University, “unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and assessments of people and situations”. Unconscious biases are influenced by our personal experiences, background, culture, conditional learning, etc., and are formed outside of our conscious awareness. These biases are always with us and can greatly impact our actions and decisions in the workplace. Without even realizing it, unconscious biases can limit people from climbing the corporate ladder, hinder diversity, recruiting, and retention, shape the culture, and cause missed opportunities.

So, what can we do, or what can our organizations do, to manage these unconscious biases? Well, the answer isn’t simple and there isn’t a one-sized-fits all approach, but we can make a difference and help unconscious biases from occurring. Before change can happen, we all must be aware of our biases and be conscious that these biases impact everything we do. Below are a few key things that organizations can do to uncover and manage unconscious biases in the workplace:

  • Awareness training – promote/improve self-awareness
  • Implicit Association Test
  • Identify specific elements in company processes that can promote bias from occurring (how people are hired, how work is assigned, etc.)
  • Encourage employees to hold each other accountable
  • Hold open conversations/discussions where people can share

Things won’t change and won’t get better if we don’t become more cognizant of the way we treat others and how we make decisions. Challenge yourself to work on becoming more consciously aware and push others around you to do so as well.

What has your organization put in place to combat unconscious bias?

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Posted by: Rachael Gaffney

Tags:  Leadership, Meeting Recap, Women in Leadership Group, Moving Forward Women in Leadership

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