Unconscious bias can be a difficult thing to identify in ourselves. We are, by definition, unaware of it, so overcoming it can be a challenge. But research continues to reveal the negative impact that being an “other” can have on a person’s career.
Among the findings of our latest employment monitor is the revelation that 67% of managers are not properly trained to handle staff older than them. An employee is only as good as the manager leading them, regardless of age. So how can we expect older workers to contribute to the best of their ability if two-thirds of managers can’t lead them?
Overcoming unconscious bias is important to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential, even those who don’t often feel like an “other” at work. Here are several ways making an effort to be more impartial and open minded can benefit your career.
Malcolm Gladwell once argued in the New York Times that the reason Enron failed was not because they had hired the wrong people, but because they had hired the same people. The problem with restricting your interactions to people like you is that you’re not getting anywhere near as many perspectives as you would with a diverse team. Women for example make up half of all the customers in the world, but have nowhere near as much say on the business side. Currently women comprise only 26% of Financial Times Stock Exchange board members, a number that falls to 10.3% for the Irish Stock Exchange.
If you take the example of an optical illusion, such as the famous two faces/vase, you’ll get an idea of how much things seem to change when viewed from another perspective. Although we can’t accurately measure the extent of its effects, unconscious bias plays an undeniable role in the points of view we end up hearing. Without engaging people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and so on, you are cutting yourself off from input that could completely change your opinion, but that you might otherwise never see.
You know how uncomfortable it can be to try and squeeze into a pair of shoes that don’t really fit. The same can be said of the workplace. You may be there physically, but if people are forced to try and fit in when they don’t, it will lead to a breakdown of the team. For example, a report by PWC found that 52% of women do not feel that their careers are properly supported by their managers, while another report from Gallup found that women are 35% more engaged when they have a female manager.
Most of us would like to think that we’re not biased or prejudiced, but that doesn’t mean that’s how we appear. While we may not be running people out of the village with pitchforks, we could also probably do more to ensure others feel included. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that two-thirds of male managers were less likely to engage one-on-one with female team members. This type of unconscious bias is easy to overlook, unless you’re on the receiving end. Making an active effort will help people feel more welcome, leading to better teamwork and better results for all involved.
With all those new perspectives under your belt and a likeability factor that’s through the roof, it’s not hard to believe that broadening your mind could broaden your opportunities as well. In addition to the extra experience you will gain by surrounding yourself with diverse people, opening yourself up to different groups will also lead to different opportunities. So while the rest of your friends are applying for that job at Enron, you’ve broadened your network and heard about opportunities than noone else has.
Overcoming unconscious bias is not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it is one of the most useful skills you can learn. Whether it’s open or subconscious, harbouring any type of bias could be limiting your potential and cutting you off from countless opportunities. Overcome that bias and you could be the one manager out of three who actually knows what they’re doing.
See what else we found out
Read other findings from our Q3 2016 Employment Monitor, including how employers feel about tattoos, and the ways some candidates ruin interviews.