Have you ever acted a certain way without realising? Have you ever made a decision and not understood the rationale behind your choice? Have you ever wondered why other people act a certain way? Understanding what drives behaviours and patterns beyond our normal thinking is difficult, due to these actions being driven by unconscious activity. However, understanding underlying thinking and behaviour patterns is crucial for an organisations success and aids in enabling business owners and executives to manage their strengths and weaknesses accordingly.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias may be the reasoning behind unintentional behavioural responses, judgments, decisions and actions. This bias type occurs beyond our normal thinking and operates without our control. From an early age our neurological activity is programmed to aid in adapting to environments without us knowing. This generates certain thinking patterns underlying behavioural responses that causes us to be biased towards the outside world. Unconscious bias may persuade our decisions and behaviour without our knowledge, which affects the external environment we are living in. This is of importance within a corporate environment, as biases in the workplace can inhibit business progression or decrease diversity. Other implications of allowing unconscious bias to influence decisions and behaviours in the workplace include:
1) Decreased inclusivity within the business culture
Individuals can believe prejudices are completely wrong, yet can act in a biased manner towards others. Although someone may not intentionally discriminate or mean to be prejudice, unconscious bias has wired our brains to think stereotypically. This stereotyping influences our decisions and actions unintentionally, which could affect individuals different than ourselves. Without understanding unconscious bias exists, employees within an organisation may unintentionally discriminate, in turn decreasing equal opportunity and inclusivity within the workplace.
2) A creative and innovative environment may be stifled
As every individual is impacted by unconscious bias, each decision is affected by perceptions beyond our normal thinking and behavioural patterns. In stressful or demanding business environments, unconscious bias may cause an employee to think irrationally or act quickly. If decisions and actions are poorly planned, creativity and innovativeness are compromised. Actions will be driven by biases towards the situation, which may include racism, sexism, homophobia or other prejudices. These poor decisions will reflect on the organisation and cause a culture stifled by unconscious bias, whilst also lacking individuality, creativity and innovativeness. Employees may be nervous to fully express themselves, which inhibits their work and innovation, decreasing the ability for that employee to operate at their maximum potential.
3) Mentoring objectives may be compromised
If unconscious bias leads decision making within a business culture, mentoring of new employees may be comprised. Compromises may include less interaction between mentors and employees, unintentional discrimination towards those employees by the mentors and higher expectations set by the mentors for those employees. Therefore, it is crucial that all mentors and senior leaders be aware that unconscious bias exists and initiatives are set to remove the effect of bias within the business to properly train and mentor new employees.
Although unconscious bias affects decision making by business owners and executives, conscious bias may also impact organisations. Conscious bias is the deliberate act of favouring one group or individual over another group or individual due to certain characteristics. An individual’s actions driven by conscious bias are deliberate and that person is aware of the bias. However, due to past experiences or other underlying thoughts, that individual feels that the bias is justified and there is no issue with it. Like unconscious bias, conscious bias can negatively impact business culture and decrease employee productivity; thus, is it important for business owners and executives to be aware of unconscious and conscious bias to understand their decision making and behavioural patterns.
As a business owner or executive, how do you manage unconscious and conscious bias?
To manage both bias types, an individual must first be aware that biases exist and the impact they may have on their thinking. Identification of bias characteristics may be completed through a Hartman Value Profile assessment.
Hartman Value Profile Assessment
The Hartman Value Profileis a report that identifies and evaluates various thinking styles and patterns driving an individual’s internal and external (or observable) behaviour. It identifies the brains activity in selecting and favouring certain characteristics during decision making that are mostly uncontrolled by the individual. The Hartman Value Profile assessment helps business owners and executives understand that both conscious, and unconscious, thinking patterns are linked to strengths and weaknesses, which may be potential blockers of organisational performance. It is important for business leaders to undergo a Hartman Value Profile assessment to gain a heightened sense of self-awareness and understand what drives their own thinking patterns.
Establish self-awareness objectives
Once you are aware that bias exists, both types may be managed through setting objectives. Before the next decision within your business, analyse your initial thoughts. Identify if the thoughts present any bias and, if they do, attempt to understand where the bias originated from. Furthermore, before making the final decision, ensure the decision is bias free and aids in achieving both self-awareness goals and business goals. Establishment of these objectives will encourage self-awareness, eventually leading to bias free decision making.
Understand your inclusivity and diversity perceptions
Every business owner, leader and executive must identify what inclusivity means to them and why diversity within the organisation is important. Diverse environments increase creativity and innovation to influence overall organisational performance, so once the importance of a diverse environment is understood, measures of accountability should be taken to ensure conscious and unconscious bias are removed from decision making. By understanding bias perceptions towards diversity, an individual is able to become more self-aware of the biases to remove them from decision making and actions.
By understanding unconscious and conscious bias exists, business owners and executives may become more self-aware of the thinking patterns that drive unintentionally behaviour and decisions. This self-awareness enables the individual to identify potential strengths and weaknesses that may inhibit organisational progression. Self-awareness and bias understanding is an ongoing process and should be encouraged within businesses to foster a more progressive and successful business culture.
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