THE EFFECTS OF HIDDEN BIAS
IN THE WORKPLACE
Left unaddressed, hidden biases have the
power to derail an organization’s success
and significantly impact client loyalty and
Hidden biases can affect:
■■ Openness to new sources of ideas and
■■ Client or customer service
■■ Budget decisions and activation of new
■■ Promotion and sponsorship of talent,
and succession planning
■■ Performance evaluations and compen-sation
■■ Team and project assignments
Even the best leaders may be surprised
to discover they are ignoring or dismissing
good ideas simply because they come from
an unexpected source within the organiza-tion.
How does our brain – without our
direction – simply ignore a contribution
from one colleague, yet welcome the very
same idea from another? It is a common
acknowledgment that some women strug-gle
to be heard equitably at the executive
table when these biases are at play.
Another all-too-common example is the
persistent assumption that the extrovert
who speaks up in meetings is more knowl-edgeable
than the introvert who prefers to
provide insight in a less exposed setting.
Whether it is the manager who dis-misses
the idea from the employee nearing
retirement in favour of the younger col-league,
or the colleague who is unwittingly
reluctant to listen to the recent immigrant
from an unfamiliar culture, the question
becomes: how many worthwhile ideas or
solutions have gone unheeded, obstructed
by involuntary biases?
IDENTIFYING AND OWNING
Through reflection, consultation with
trusted colleagues and exploration of such
tools as Harvard University’s Implicit
Association Test, leaders can begin to
identify their own hidden biases. The
process takes personal courage and a will-ingness
to consider potentially unwelcome
aspects of our mental framework. By un-derstanding
the value of overcoming our
biases, leaders can step past the discomfort
and begin to acknowledge and eliminate
their hidden biases.
According to Banaji, the first step to defeat-ing
our hidden biases is to be honest with
ourselves about the blind spots we have.
By the simple act of acknowledg-ing
their commitment to identifying
and overcoming their own biases, senior
leaders can have a powerful motivation-al
effect on peers and others within their
organization to do the same. As is so of-ten
the case with inclusive leadership, this
is a case in which “walking the walk” can
have a meaningful impact on those who
are watching our behaviour. This is not
simply limited to our own work environ-ments;
as organizations build a greater
awareness of how bias can subvert prog-ress,
their leaders can inspire change
among their partners and clients.
Now that you are aware that uncon-scious
biases do exist, you are likely asking
yourself, “How can I find out if I am har-bouring
my own hidden biases and how
can I take action?”
There are simple actions that you can take.
For starters, explore the Implicit Association
Test at http://bit.ly/1bqPloF to begin
finding out where you may be holding
onto an unconscious bias. Colleagues can
also be a good source of candid feedback;
take a 360-degree approach to seeking in-put.
Those same trusted colleagues can also
act as a sounding board to discuss frames of
reference and their impacts.
It’s also important to be conscious of
the words and physical reactions that sur-face
in interactions with others. When you
start to pay more attention to your own
thoughts and actions, you may start to no-tice
things about yourself that you hadn’t
previously. Be mindful, respectful, curious
and supportive of colleagues’ differences,
and listen to all voices equally. If you think
a colleague’s contribution is being ignored,
You can also ask yourself the following
■■ Do I typically hire the same type of
person, or personality type?
■■ When I say a candidate is not the right
“fit,” what do I mean?
■■ What does my slate of candidates look
like? Do I speak up if it is not suffi-ciently
■■ Which of my past hires were success-ful,
and what can I learn from those
choices that didn’t work out as well?
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ MARCH/APRIL 2014 ❚ 29