Why You Need to Reduce the Impact of Unconscious Bias on Your Business

Unconscious bias refers to assumptions, attitudes, or beliefs about different groups of people that lurk beneath our everyday awareness. As learned mental short-cuts, these stereotypes impact how we both view and respond to those around us.

Everyone harbours hidden, built-in biases to a certain degree. And while labeling or categorizing others can lead to emotional, professional or even financial distress, the good news is that—with some work and attention—persistent biases can be changed.

With that in mind, here’s a brief look at 3 of the most compelling reasons why you should strive to reduce the impact of unconscious bias on your business.

1. Bias curtails performance

Values aside, one of the main reasons why it’s in your best interest to root out and overcome workplace bias is the fact that a lack of professional equity, diversity, and inclusion can hold your business back.

According to Harvard Business Review, for example, studies show that well-managed, diverse groups of people:

  • Perform better and are more committed
  • Have higher collective intelligence
  • Excel at making decisions and solving problems

Equally compelling are global findings from McKinsey that link gender and ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams to a 21% and 33% improvement in profitability, respectively.

2. Bias can be costly

Whether driven by race, gender, age, or appearance, unconscious bias can be costly in terms of employee engagement, retention, and your brand reputation.

Recent research suggests, for example, that compared with those employees who work at large companies and do not perceive bias, employees who do are:

  • 2½ X as likely to have withheld ideas or solutions at work in the past 6 months
  • 3 X as likely to plan to leave their employers within the year
  • 5 X as likely to discuss their companies in a negative light on social media

From a hard-dollars perspective, meanwhile, the cost of workplace bias in the US alone (based on losing and replacing employees due to unfairness and discrimination) has been projected at $64B annually.

3. Bias may prevent your connecting with the people most likely to benefit your business

Because they’re often driven by mistaken, inaccurate, or incomplete information, biases can have a detrimental effect on your business when it comes to who gets hired, promoted, or placed in particular roles, and how much they get paid.

Consider these revealing unconscious bias statistics:

  • Resumes with African American, Asian, and Hispanic names are less likely to get interview call-backs (small Canadian companies, in fact, are even more likely than larger companies to discriminate against job applicants with Asian names, regardless of candidate skills and qualifications)
  • The taller a man is, the more likely his earnings are to exceed those of shorter men (although fewer than 15% of men in the US are over 6 feet tall, for example, 60% of corporate CEOs are at least this height)
  • 48% of African American women and 47% of Latina women report being mistaken for administrative or custodial staff

Not only can a biased perspective prevent your identifying, mentoring, and adequately compensating the most promising business recruits—bias-driven alienation in the workplace is often responsible for escalating everything from employee stress-related illnesses, accidents, and absenteeism, to worker turnover and customer churn.

Further your learning …

Now that you know what it is and why it’s important, learning as much as you can about unconscious bias is the best way to reduce its impact on your business.

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