Marie-Claire Barker, global chief talent officer at MEC, offers 10 tips for tackling your own unconscious bias.
We know that embracing diversity in society matters, and it’s increasingly clear that it is necessary for business too. It’s vital that a company’s employees not only reflect the world at large, but that all their ideas and perspectives are integral in creating business value.
When it comes to diverse perspectives, it requires the conversation to move beyond only race and gender and focus on all the differences people bring that make them unique, such as education, religion, beliefs, age or regional accent.
Research has shown that, despite our best intentions, individuals inadvertently allow their unconscious biases – or assumptions – to influence their actions and behaviours in ways that can stifle the inclusion of others. To create a truly inclusive and diverse workplace, we must be brave enough to acknowledge our biases and their impact on our decision making.
Bias is not an accusation, but is our perception of what we feel is different from our own social norms. While we may not be conscious of biases, they can have damaging consequences on how we manage and treat the people we lead and partner with. Consequences include exclusion, wrong assumptions, a lack of innovation, strained relationships, a lack of engagement and, worse, the feeling of discrimination.
The key to avoiding unconscious bias is to be aware of it and understand how subtly it can creep into our decision-making processes. Putting systems and structures in place to help standardise decision making is also critical to countering bias.
Brave your bias at Advertising Week Europe
At MEC we’ve launched a global initiative to tackle unconscious bias, both internally and externally. On day one at this year’s Advertising Week Europe, we’ll be present to challenge the industry to pledge to uncover and act on their unconscious bias. Attendees are invited to visit the ‘Brave Your Bias’ photo booth, where a bespoke facial merging tool will be used to create ‘The Face of Ad Week Europe 2017’ in a real-time data visualisation.
We are also giving delegates the opportunity to complete one of the six Harvard University Implicit Association Tests to help bring unconscious biases to the surface. The test topics include gender-career, skin-tone, age, weight and disability.
Finally, we have built a website which we encourage everyone to visit to learn more about how unconscious bias may be impacting them and their relationships and decisions.
There are innumerable benefits of diversity. Inclusive thinking fosters innovation and growth, and has a knock-on effect on employee productivity, retention, team collaboration and commitment, all of which ultimately add value to a business. An inclusive team of engaged people from different backgrounds can provide a greater variety of perspectives and solutions to problems. A diverse workforce is crucial for success.
Ten tips on how to Brave Your Bias
Here are some steps you can take to tackle your unconscious bias:
1 – Question your assumptions
Get into the habit of taking a moment to pause and ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this way?” Be aware of your first impressions or gut reactions as those often are driven by unconscious biases.
2 – Look for it
Be alert to the types of situations where you are particularly vulnerable to unconscious biases, such as when you are stressed and under pressure, tired or multi-tasking and make an effort to be more deliberate in your approach.
3 – Own it
The intent to be unbiased isn’t enough to eliminate bias. Take advantage of opportunities to self-reflect and consider the subtle ways your biases may be influencing your actions, behaviours or decisions.
4 – Focus on the individual
Make an effort to view others based on their personal characteristics rather than stereotypical ones. Avoid broad generalisations such as “All millennials want…” or “Working mothers never…” or even “Why can’t the planning team ever…”.
5 – Be comfortable being uncomfortable
We all have a tendency to like “people like us” (this is an ‘affinity bias’); it’s comfortable to surround yourself with people who are similar to you. Unconscious bias operates when there is a lack of information, so push yourself, and your team, to seek out opportunities to immerse yourselves in environments where you may be out of your comfort zone.
6 – Understand differences
Our comfort with people “like us” can also have a negative impact on those who are “different” from us. Look for ways to increase contact among different people or groups, and actively look for complementary skill sets and perspectives. Learning more about others will help prevent your biases from filling in the gaps.
7 – Embrace the positive
It’s often easy to find things to praise in people who are similar to us but push yourself to regularly find the positive in people with different backgrounds, workstyles, personalities etc. Actively addressing the positive will not only help that person, but is also likely to help you prevent unconscious and unintended slights.
8 – Analyse your decisions
Push yourself to look for the evidence and the objective data to support your decisions (particularly decisions that directly impact another’s performance, growth and career path).
9 – Change your perspective
Consider the situation from the perspective of different people or groups and be open to exploring multiple viewpoints. Think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed or how you would feel if someone said that about you or treated you in that manner.
10 – Help someone
Volunteer to be a mentor, either through a formal programme or informally. More specifically, look to work with someone who is different than you in some way – you will both benefit and grow from the difference in perspectives and experience.