BY JASMINE GARTNER Employee Engagement Consultant and Trainer

Brexit. Austerity. Immigration. Politics. Uncertainty. It feels like there is so much change right now – companies are working so hard to identify challenges and address them. But what if one of the biggest challenges an organisation might face comes from within and could be easily addressed?

The challenge I’m talking about is unconscious bias. We all have it and we all have the power to do something about it: more than that, the sum is greater than the parts when it comes to addressing unconscious bias.

I’m just going to talk about two unconscious biases here and how exploring them with your team can improve communications, engagement and lead to greater productivity.

“Us and Them”

It’s human nature to look for similarities and differences, and you can see this play out in terms of our biases. For example, people tend to have an in-group bias, where we see the members of their own group as better – unique and diverse. Related to this, people also tend to have an out-group homogeneity bias, where they see people that they classify as “other” as undifferentiated or all the same.

Recently, I was working with a group of post-graduate business students. One of them told us about how he had really tried to hire people who he didn’t particularly like – people who were loud and extrovert. As long as their work was good, he wanted to give them a chance. But every single time, it had ended in failure. My question to him was “did you see these people as being like you?” The answer, of course, was no. Both his in-group bias and his out-group homogeneity bias came into play here. He saw people who were like him – quieter and more considered in their bearing – as being intrinsically more suited for the work. And, he couldn’t differentiate between extroverts – in his eyes, they were all the same and so they were going to fail before they even started.

Address Bias, Improve the Workplace

By identifying his in-groups and his out-groups, this man could rethink his communication strategy, which might mean difficult conversations with team members who were different to him, but he could now understand why he reacted to them in the way he did. Having the difficult conversations, in turn, meant his team felt that he really listened to them, which improved their engagement in the team and helped them to understand what he was looking for. This, of course, impacts productivity.

Here are some tips to counter out-group homogeneity bias:

  • Encourage intergroup activities
  • Identify your in-groups and your out-groups
  • Try to talk to people who you see as “other” to yourself

Do you want to learn more? We’re running a free webinar that will explore unconscious bias, as well as the HR and legal ramifications of failing to address it in the workplace. More information and to register click here.