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6 Ways Unconscious Bias Could Be Hurting Your Business

Contributed by Women’s Enterprise Centre BC

“Unconscious bias” is a popular business topic right now. But what is it and what does it mean for your business?

Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes that unconsciously affect your decision-making and influence your actions. Here’s the deal – if you have a brain, you have unconscious bias! Because people tend to prefer things that are like them, or things that remind them of something positive they’ve experienced before.

But these biases can be a significant barrier to diversity and a stumbling block for businesses that want to foster an inclusive environment. There is lots of research out there proving that a more diverse team creates better business results. In fact, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company just released that firms with more women in their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability, and firms with more ethnic diversity in their executives are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability. That’s a good reason to try to overcome your unconscious bias!

The bad news is: unconscious bias is hard-wired and everyone has it. The good news is: you can help the mind make better decisions by being mindful of the symbols, role models and language you choose.

There are lots of resources out there to help find out where your biases may lie. Prepare to be surprised – you may even be biased against people like you doing similar work to what you do! Google ‘implicit bias test’ and you will find some easy online tests you can do for free to find out more about this topic.

Here are six ways that unconscious bias could be negatively affecting your business:

  1. It limits your job applicants
    The words you use in job descriptions can limit who applies for a position. For example, companies in male-dominated industries tend to use masculine language in job postings (such as decisive, independent), which makes the opportunities less attractive to females.
  2. It clogs your talent pipeline
    When entry-level employees don’t see people like themselves at the top, it limits their aspirations for leadership. Companies that make diverse leadership the norm are better able to retain talent. Practices like blind recruiting can remove the assumptions you make about a person based on their name, gender or education, for example, and let you focus on the candidate’s strengths and experience.
  3. It restricts your market
    The symbols, images and words you choose throughout your organization provide unconscious cues for your customers. If you’re expanding to new markets, consult with people in that demographic to see how they perceive your business and work to identify how you can be more inclusive.
  4. It stunts innovation
    Affinity bias causes people to want to work with others who have things in common. Yet research shows that a diverse team leads to better decision-making, improved brainstorming and higher financial performance. Assumptions about working style, age or interests can inhibit innovation because they overshadow the strengths that each person brings to the table. Work on examining your quick judgments and actively seek different points of view.
  5. It costs you more
    Companies that consciously seek more diverse suppliers for their business have lower costs, as well as more innovation solutions to the challenges they face in their own procurement.
  6. It limits your profitability
    Companies with more diverse work forces, executive teams, client bases and supply chains make more money. It’s that simple. They also build their reputation for being an open, welcoming company to do business with.

If you’re seeing biased outcomes, it means there’s built into your processes and decision-making. Fortunately, there are lots of resources available to overcome unconscious bias.

Addressing unconscious bias is one of the key strategies to overcome gender inequality. You can learn more by checking out the 2018 WE FOR SHE BC Action Plan recently released by the WE FOR SHE organizing partners, Women’s Enterprise Centre and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. WE FOR SHE has compiled articles, tools and training to combat unconscious bias and develop a diverse and inclusive business. Visit—join the movement and start seeing the positive results in your business!