Leaders start their entrepreneurial journey with good intentions. But there is one aspect that builds over time, which then clouds important decisions, causes financial losses in an organization and affects overall employee well-being. And that is known as unconscious bias.
When an entrepreneur first starts out, they lead with hopes and dreams – to achieve something significant, leave behind a legacy and build a dream team that continues to show enthusiasm as the organization sets milestones in their industry.
But somewhere along the line, they tend to lose their way. After all, we are human and subject to be influenced by the environment that surrounds us. We also have a natural tendency to be biased in life – whether it is with food, activities, and unfortunately, even people.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias exists in every workplace. The best way to identify this is if you notice yourself reacting to certain things on impulse. Actions speak louder than words, hence your decisions openly demonstrate a preference for a certain type of mindset, community, or attitudes. Unfortunately, most biases come with a habit to discriminate, which is why some workplaces set up strict regulations to ensure this is avoided at all costs.
What kinds of biases exist?
While many of us know what having a bias means, I have read that there are actually over 10 types of identified biases. Each is unique and something all of us have experienced at some point in our lives.
Here are the four most common biases I would like to highlight, their effects, and how to resolve them:
Bias of affinity: This takes place when an individual appears to show similar attitudes and interests as the employer or leader. This gives the false impression that they will follow the same ideals in the workplace. This should not be a decisive factor, because it affects diversity in the workplace. We need to move on from the idea of “culture fit” and adopt “culture add”, which has the potential to bring new and innovative ideas to the table. I would also advise not to act on “gut instincts”.
Bias of attribution: When an individual is unable to find a shared connection with another or assumes a situation based on what they see on first glance, they are subject to attribution bias. It may seem harmless at first, but over time, this becomes problematic. A leader would then find himself or herself judging every action based on a certain incident. This creates obstacles and disruption in co-working spaces. To resolve this, address the original matter in a comfortable space where they can speak and share their experience in private. Avoid forming an impression if they stutter. Remember, many employees tend to become nervous around people in leadership positions.
Bias of contrast: Very similar to the bias of affinity but has a stronger damaging effect – the contrast bias is when one compares a certain employee to another. This often takes place when, for example, one employee is vocal about their initiatives and doing their tasks, while another is delivering their tasks on an equal level or greater level but does not have a habit of expressing their accomplishments. This makes leaders give preferential treatment to the outspoken, as they have the ability to get noticed, despite a leader’s busy schedule. I would recommend viewing their results and acknowledging both on equal footing. This avoids internal conflicts and boosts morale.
The gender bias: This is a matter of serious concern and I feel that many leaders are guilty of giving special treatment to one gender or the other, where men are given managerial positions more often than women. Workplaces may be becoming more mindful of this concern, but the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 conducted by The World Economic Forum shows that there still remains a 31.4% average gender gap yet to be addressed. Due to this, many great minds go unnoticed or lose the motivation to lead. I stand for equality and encourage leaders to consciously make an effort to prioritize experience and skills, over gender.
As leaders, we are the catalysts of change. We have the ability to nurture our ambitions in an organic and healthy way. I would recommend being mindful of your actions and understand the complications of unconscious bias in order to overcome challenges that truly matter.