What is Unconscious Bias, and Why Should Managers Care?
Unconscious bias affects managers and their teams in many ways. It impacts hiring, how managers treat diverse employees, productivity, and team morale. Wait, Risha Grant, you said unconscious what? Unconscious bias! Also, what I call BS! Or…Bias Synapse.
Simply put, it means an unrecognizable part of your upbringing that causes you to prejudge others and treat them according to those judgments (which are usually wrong, by the way, 🙄). And by others, I mean your employees and colleagues. 🤦🏾♀️ I already hear you getting defensive and saying you don’t have biases.
Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, everyone has biases. The bad news is, everyone has biases. The great news: everyone can work on it.! But Risha, how do I figure out my unconscious biases if I am not aware of them?
A Simple Unconscious Bias Exercise to Get Rid of the BS
A quick, unconscious bias exercise to help people become aware of their biases is to consider who makes you uncomfortable and why. If you’re honest, you will discover that certain people cause you to clutch your purse a little tighter or squeeze into the corner of the elevator a little bit more. Next, you have to figure out the reason that you’re uncomfortable. Ask yourself if your discomfort is their fault or your issue? Most often, it’s going to be your issue!
I say that with love and a smile, but in all seriousness, unconscious bias is the number one threat to making diverse team members feel safe and accepted. Team members need to feel a sense of safety and belonging to perform their duties at their best. The company sets the culture, but it’s the managers who implement it. So how can managers make their diverse teams feel safe and accepted?
Get Rid of the BS In Your Team
First and foremost, Get Rid of the BS on your team. Once you get rid of your own unconscious bias, your next step as a leader is to rid your team of it as well. You have to let everybody know that racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, talking negatively about fellow team members and gossiping, will not be tolerated because they all create a toxic work environment.
If someone on your team brings a transgression to you, you need to act. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to fire somebody. Still, it does mean that you need to have a conversation with the team member who hurt a colleague and correct the behavior that disrupted team cohesion. Your action as a manager will build diverse employees’ trust in you as a leader. Many employees have told me in my time working in diversity and inclusion that they report complaints and never hear about them again. And when I asked managers about those instances, they admitted they didn’t know how to handle the situation because no one trained them on DEI. So it is paramount to follow up with action. Here are some steps you can take:
Step #1 Start the conversation.
If the team member who reported the issue is comfortable sitting down and talking through the issues with the team member who committed the transgression, start there. If not, speak to the team members one at a time and then bring people together.
Step # 2 Be a good listener and validate their feelings.
Allow your team members to talk and listen to understand, not to respond. Be sure to validate what they are telling you. I’m not saying that every single person that reports an issue is telling you the truth. But I am saying that for most diverse people, by the time they get to the point of reporting, they have run the situation past several people to make sure that what they’re feeling is real.
Step # 3 Handle it.
Identify the source of the problem and come up with solutions. Find out what was said, explain why it was offensive, and determine how the team member can correct it in the future.
In summary, to Get Rid of the BS, you must deal with unconscious bias. So what can you do right now to start that process? Assess who makes you uncomfortable and why. If you want your employees or colleagues to feel safe at work, be proactive in letting them know that they can come to talk to you about their troubling experiences and that you will take action. I promise, by implementing these small changes, you will notice significant changes in your team productivity and cohesion.