Is unconscious bias adversely affecting your decisions? - Business Works
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Is unconscious bias adversely affecting your decisions?

by Claire Williams FCIPD, Director, Inclusive Employers Most modern organisations have policies and procedures designed to minimise the risk of bad employment decisions. However, as we all know, bad decisions are still made says Claire Williams, Director at Inclusive Employers. Even well trained and well intentioned managers are capable of making decisions that turn out to be wrong for the business ... promoting or recruiting the wrong person, failing to maximise business development opportunities or providing poor customer service.

We are always looking for ways to help our members and others become better employers. One of the many events that we run is a short Introduction to Unconscious Bias.

Unconscious bias gives us some clues as to how this is possible. Historically, psychologists thought that human decision making was a very rational and logical process, but, increasingly, the impact of our unconscious thought patterns is emerging.

the unconscious brain processes 200,000 times more information than the conscious

We know that we all have bias to some extent. Bias is developed over a lifetime of being exposed to more data than our conscious brain can manage and, as a result, the unconscious brain processes 200,000 times more information than the conscious.

The unconscious manages all this information by sifting and sorting it, by creating patterns and linkages. Every time a series of pieces of information are connected together or 'wired' together in the unconscious brain, the connection gets stronger and the messaging to the conscious brain gets faster. We all know people who say they know immediately if a candidate is right for the job. This is their unconscious brain at work

Unconscious bias occurs when we accept as truth, untested messages which we receive from our unconscious brain.

This is a process that is part of the human condition. We all have unconscious bias, but the key thing for managers is to identify and address it.

Here are six steps for managers who want to address any bias that may impact on their business or the quality of decisions they make:

  1. Encourage discussion about bias: Experience with teams indicates that once discussions are underway about bias, people feel able to be open about their bias and challenge colleagues in a supportive context.

  2. Question first impressions: In a work context, first impressions seem so important but your first impressions may be your unconscious brain at work ... fast thinking, untested messages.

  3. Create some positive images: Try to balance negative associations by recruiting a diverse workforce - this will help establish different brain connections which are more likely to be bias free.

  4. Check your policies and procedures again for bias: Although organisations are much less likely to make errors than individuals simply because decision making is slower, we do still see established patterns of behaviours based on bias.

  5. Put some sugar in your tea! When blood sugar levels drop, the conscious brain is more likely to rely on fast messages from the unconscious.

  6. Take your time to make decisions

We all know how draining some days can be, for example a full day on interviews. When you are tired you are most likely to rely on your unconscious brain. Sleep on the decision and come to the data fresh the next morning.

All of our courses combine a range of different learning methods. This short course is interactive and challenging. It addresses the scientific basis of unconscious bias and the impact that this business-inhibiting problem can have on attitudes and behaviour at work. With case studies and action planning this is an ideal event those wanting to be introduced to the principles of Unconscious Bias.

Inclusive Employers is the UK's first and leading membership organisation for employers looking to build inclusive workplaces. We provide a wide range of training and consultancy to members and non-members in organisations from all sectors.

We are currently planning Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week 2014 and National Inclusion Week 2014 if you would like to learn more, please get in touch.

If you need any more information about any of our services and events, please go to our website: where you will also find details of training dates and venues.

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