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  • James Howey

Unconscious Bias: Recognise it and Improve Productivity

If you missed last month's newsletter I posted a riddle in the introduction, which goes as follows:

a blind beggar had a brother who died. What relation was the blind beggar to the brother who died? “Brother” is not the answer.

This is a straight forward riddle, but is only difficult because of our unconscious bias. The majority of people initially assume that the beggar is a man. Obviously, the answer has to be sister, but our bias prevents us from considering this as an answer.

There has been much in the media recently on diversity in the workplace and especially gender equality. Although, many may consciously agree with having a diverse equitable workplace, however, are unconscious biases having an impact on human resource management. It has been shown that we use biases and stereotypes all the time. The human brain is a high sophisticated computer and it looks for efficiencies processing power and speed, it is constantly looking for patterns and similarity. It is hardwired to apply preconceived ideas and assumptions and these get reinforced by our environment and experience.

Bias in the workplace can mean that talented people are overlooked and not given the same opportunities for career progression. Voices of those we associate with are not heard, some team members don't fully participate and productivity may be compromised.

Businesses need to be aware of this phenomenon and should examine workforce demographics and look for equity issues. Harvard University offers a test for unconscious bias. I just took the gender and career test and apparently I have a strong bias towards females and family. Most of the responds did have this bias, but for me it was surprising that my bias was so strong, as Viridis has always been gender balanced and I do the lion's share of looking after the kids. I suspect this is a childhood bias established at a young age, where my mother was the primary caregiver.

Why not test yourself, do you have a bias? Most of us do and that's not necessarily a bad thing, we just need to recognise it and make conscious decisions based on evidence, rather than assumption.

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