At any given moment, our brains are receiving 11 million pieces of information. We can only consciously process about 40 of those pieces. To process the remaining 10,999,960 we rely on our subconscious, which helps us filter information by taking mental shortcuts.

Unconscious bias refers to the information, attitudes, and stereotypes that guide our mental shortcuts.  While unconscious information processing is a normal human function, the shortcuts we take, and the bias that informs those mental shortcuts, often introduce errors into our decision-making. And when we have flawed and biased decision-making, our workforce decisions lead to bad outcomes in recruitment, hiring, career development and talent retention.

Unconscious Bias Impedes Diverse Talent

The markets for our products and services is diverse and reflects many different demographics.  Additionally, studies indicate that by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of approximately 85 million people.  So our markets require diverse talent plus we have a global talent shortage. Why then would we allow our unconscious bias to impede our ability to recruit diverse talent?  But when we hire and develop people through quick but flawed decision-making, informed by our unconscious pattern recognition and stereotypes (e.g., a genius looks like Albert Einstein), then we’re allowing our unconscious bias to impede diverse talent into the organization.

In fact, take a look at the video below to see our illustration of the leaky diversity funnel:

The Leaky Funnel 

Using A Framework to Manage Out Unconscious Bias

Companies that want to promote a diverse, inclusive workplace culture should consider opportunities to minimize bias both at the structural level in company processes and at an individual level in employee attitudes and behaviors.

Company Structural Processes

In terms of modifying company structure to manage bias, companies should focus on recruitment, team dynamics, and career development.  Here are just a few of the processes that require attention to support inclusion:

Companies should review their career sites and modify to show a culture that is inclusive and welcoming to all employees. Including photos of employees from different backgrounds, highlighting inclusive perks and benefits, and explicitly referencing that the company values a diverse, inclusive culture are all best practices.

Also, review job descriptions for problematic, biased language that may stop diverse candidates from applying.  Engage in active sourcing to find candidates outside of the company’s referral network. When leveraging referral candidates, ensure there is a diverse group of employees who are referring their network to the organization.

Team Dynamics
Often, it’s not what you know but rather, who knows that you know?  Building a personal brand is directly related to career success, but team dynamics can negatively influence someone’s personal brand.  For example, who’s getting heard in meetings? Who is viewed as handling important projects versus who is viewed as the note-taker, the event organizer, the team “home-maker”?  Unfortunately, our unconscious bias impacts who gets to speak, who is interrupted and how we view our colleagues. And how we show up in team dynamics impacts the career opportunities we receive.

Career Advancement
Consciously and actively supporting the careers of employees from underrepresented backgrounds sends a message to diverse talent that the organization cares about inclusion and creating a workplace culture where everyone can succeed.

Changing Employee Behaviors

Any successful program to manage unconscious bias must include a strategy to change employee behaviors.  The culture change needs to be from the bottom up, in addition to the top down. Explicitly asking employees for referrals of people from underrepresented backgrounds can prompt employees to think about the great people they’ve worked with who would add diversity to the team.

Clearly Define Expectations
For recruitment, clearly outline the needed skills and experience for each role before recruitment. Before beginning an interview process, the team responsible for the hiring decision should meet to outline and discuss all attributes that matter for that role, and identify who on the team will assess for each attribute.

Also, define what “culture fit” means to your organization.  Culture fit questions can be less biased if they’re designed to assess for specific, predetermined factors that are relevant to the job (e.g., the candidate is collaborative, likes taking on challenges, is comfortable with a quickly changing environment).  Also, design interview questions to identify these attributes.

Give Employees Process and Practice
For team dynamics, teach employees to use a meeting process so that everyone is heard and to “round-robin” team chores such as note-taking or organizing events.

In career advancement situations, employees need to practice outlining an objective set of criteria that reflect “achievement” and “success” for a particular role and measure, with specific data, how well someone achieved the goals for that role.

Call Out Bias
Lastly, employees should be encouraged to notice and call out unconscious bias and share stories of both diversity success as well as unconscious bias. Creating and maintaining a workplace culture that is attractive to a wide range of people from different demographics is the only way to create a diverse, talented workforce.

Unconscious Bias Resources

Ready to see our Managing Unconscious Bias Program in action? You can also check out these helpful unconscious bias resources:

  • [Guide] Guide to Building an Effective Program to Manage Unconscious Bias. Despite more awareness and public commitment from corporate and government leadership, the data from corporate diversity reports show little or no progress in achieving greater diversity. This guide outlines five components that must be in place for a diversity program to succeed.
  • [White Paper] Managing Unconscious Bias. For the growing number of companies devoting resources to diversity, this white paper is a guide on how to think about and address unconscious bias at all levels of the organization.
  • [Blog] Be Conscious About Bias to Work Better. Unconscious bias influences how we think about our colleagues and our leaders, how we approach projects, and how we get and give opportunities. Here’s how to move past it.
  • [Webinar] Building an Effective Unconscious Bias Program. In this webinar, Joelle Emerson and Janine Yancey discuss how unconscious bias impacts your recruitment, team dynamics, and career development. You’ll gain practical insights and recommendations on managing unconscious bias in your organization.