Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are underlying assumptions, beliefs, or stereotypes that we hold against other people or groups of people that impact our behaviours. Unconscious biases are often developed through our own experiences, perceptions, and societal influences.
Unconscious bias in the workplace may result in adverse treatment to employees that can lead to legal claims and disputes. There are steps employers and employees can take to unlearn unconscious bias that may result in discriminatory behaviours.
As an employer
Employers have a great deal of influence over how unconscious biases impact employment decisions. Some of the steps that employers across British Columbia can take to improve workplace culture and prevent discriminatory behaviours include:
- Requiring managers and employees to attend training on unconscious bias
- Developing strategies to recognize and overcome biases
- Creating open lines of communication for people with questions or concerns
- Setting good examples for others by regularly discussing unconscious biases
- Making a genuine effort to build diversity and inclusion programs
These measures can help a workforce to understand what unconscious biases they might hold and to overcome them when hiring, promoting or working with others.
As an employee
Employees may not have as much control over company-wide practices or policies, but they play a critical role in preventing unconscious bias in the workplace.
Each employee can help by:
- Reporting instances of discrimination to managers or HR
- Speaking up when someone may be making decisions based on an unconscious bias
- Attending training sessions offered by employers
- Active self-reflection to understand their own unconscious biases
- Widening their social and professional circles
- Apologizing for instances where bias may have affected decisions
Making these kinds of efforts can improve working relationships and make spaces feel safer and more inclusive.
No matter what position you may hold, working to unlearn and be aware of unconscious biases in the workplace are crucial. Failure to do so can create an environment of discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace, which may lead to legal conflicts and penalties. An experienced labour and employment lawyer can assist in preventing or solving instances of unconscious bias in the workplace.