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Reducing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: Strategies & Processes

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Though everyone has unconscious bias, it can be really destructive in the workplace. This lesson discusses some of the things you can do to reduce unconscious bias and its fallout in a workplace environment.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

Kara has been working at the same company for a few years. She recently joined a diversity committee at work. During their meetings, they discuss what they can do to reduce microaggressions, or subtle discriminatory acts, in their workplace.

Kara points out that from what she has read and experienced, microaggressions are often rooted in unconscious bias, or biases that we are not aware that we hold. A bias is a preconceived notion about another person or group, and unconscious biases are those we hold without being aware of them.

The other members of Kara's committee agree, but they are distressed. They know that having bias is pretty natural, and they worry that it will be impossible to eradicate bias in the workplace. Kara explains that they can benefit from reducing unconscious bias; by helping people become more aware of their own biases, they can eliminate negative behaviors that grow out of bias.

Reduction Strategies

Kara starts researching some of the strategies that other organizations have used to reduce unconscious bias among their employees. She knows that unconscious bias is often related to social identity categories, like race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, among other things. Therefore, reducing unconscious bias will certainly involve discussions of these categories and the stereotypes they can involve.

Trainers and Consultants

First, Kara's committee learns about the possibility of hiring special trainers or consultants to work with them on reducing bias. Trainers can be locally or nationally oriented, and they can work with employees on a one-time or ongoing basis. The best option depend on the goals as well as the resources available.

The trainer Kara's committee hires runs separate workshops on stereotypes and bias related to race, class and gender. This helps people in Kara's workplace begin to feel safe discussing bias together, and it also helps them start to bring some of their biased views to the surface.

Reducing unconscious bias in the workplace takes commitment, time, and dedication.
meeting

Consciousness Raising

Kara understands that the meetings with the trainer are only part of the story, however. In general, her committee commits to helping raise the consciousness, or awareness, of bias issues in the workplace. Some of the things they do include:

  • Bringing in diverse guest speakers to talk about their experiences
  • Having regular collegial lunches around particular predetermined themes
  • Reading widely from diverse authors in the field their company works on
  • Surveying employees about their experiences with microaggressions at work

There are many different ways to raise consciousness, and Kara finds that the collaborative nature of this work is part of what makes it challenging, but also what makes it successful.

Opportunities for Reflection

After they have worked together long enough to feel safe and known by each other, Kara and her fellow committee members start to make more frequent opportunities for reflection on their own biases and how they might impact their behavior as well as their emotions.

Kara teams up with a male colleague who shares with her that he sometimes finds assertive women off-putting, but he is starting to understand that this is a deeply embedded bias that he wants to work through.

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