Should small businesses offer unconscious bias training?
Unconscious bias, sometimes called implicit bias, refers to learned, deeply ingrained and unintentional stereotypes that influence behavior. In the workplace, unconscious bias can impact hiring and promotion decisions, and can influence workplace relationships. For those who are victims of unconscious bias, it can be responsible for job dissatisfaction to the point where the employee leaves or sues the employer.
Understanding unconscious bias
There are many different kinds of unconscious bias, and recognizing them is the first step toward eliminating them. Here are some examples:
Confirmation bias is the tendency to make assumptions about a person or situation based on your own prejudices. If you’re reviewing resumes for a potential hire and you’re presuming the person’s ethnicity based on their name, you’re exhibiting confirmation bias.
Affinity bias refers to the tendency we have to connect with people who have experiences and backgrounds similar to our own. Beware of affinity bias that’s disguised as ‘company culture.’
Conformity bias is the same as peer pressure. When you change your behavior to be more in line with those around you, even if it doesn’t reflect your own beliefs, that’s conformity bias at work.
The halo effect and the horns effect refer to making assumptions about a person based on where they live, went to school, or previously worked. People who exhibit these types of biases may assume greater things from a Harvard graduate who once worked at Google, but would have lower expectations of someone who attended a state college and worked for a startup that didn’t succeed.
How unconscious bias hurts your business
Each of these types of biases can lead you to make assumptions about a person based on their age, race, religion, name, skin color, gender, disability, and more. Allowing bias to guide your decisions may not only prevent you from hiring the best people for the job, it can set you up for a lawsuit.
Employees who feel they have been discriminated against at work can file a claim with the Employment Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the EEOC website, it is “illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
How to address unconscious bias in yourself and your employees
Since unconscious bias is learned over time, it needs to be ‘un-learned,’ and the best way to do this is through education. There are many sources for unconscious bias training both online and in person. Choose the type of training that will work best for your staff.
Training should be part of your onboarding process and should also be provided for all employees on a regular basis, at least annually. If you have an incident at your organization that signals more training is needed, provide a more in-depth course and offer it more frequently.
Unconscious bias training is just the first step
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a training session is all you need to ensure your employees feel equally valued. Keep an ear to the ground at all times to make sure that there are no covert acts of discrimination going on and that hiring and promotion decisions are being made in an equitable way. An anonymous, company-wide survey is a good way to find out what your employees are thinking.
Remember that employees take their cues from management. If a manager makes a racist comment or talks about someone’s disability in a negative way, staff will get the idea that this type of behavior is acceptable. The business owner and all managers need to set the tone for the organization.
Providing unconscious bias training can put your company on a path toward a more equitable work place – and that benefits everyone.