By Joyce DiMascio

Getting company culture right is important – but it all starts with understanding the biases or pre-judgements made at an individual level.

With the massive shake-up that’s occurring in business, it’s a good time to run a few health checks to get 2021 off to a productive and fresh start.

Jane Mathews, speaker, trainer and author talks to Joyce DiMascio about how to tackle and better understand what drives our behaviours – positive and negative and what we can do to address “unconscious bias”.

There are a wide range of biases that have developed from our life or workplace experiences.

According to Jane Mathews, “unconscious bias” which is also called “implicit bias” is simply a pre-judgement, based on our experience.

She says that if you breathe, you’re biased.  If you have a brain, you’re biased. We all have biases.

The most common biases are affinity bias, stereotyping, conformity bias, confirmation bias, the halo effect, the horn effect, contrast bias, attribution bias and beauty bias.

“We were born with software intended to keep us alive.  Our ancestors would sum up the threat from a sabre tooth tiger in an instant. Bias is a mental shortcut. However, what once served us well now has the potential to do the opposite,” she said.

Jane says that our brains process vastly more information than our conscious minds register. We receive 11 million bits of information each second. We consciously capture about 50 and process seven.

“We use shortcuts based on our background, experiences and cultural environment to fill in the blanks by making snap decisions about everything around us,” she said.

“Biases are alive and well in every workplace. For example: “Older people don’t understand digital”, “I’m not racist but…”. It can also include the practice of women allowing men to interrupt them and take the lead in meetings, and in the recruitment process to name but a few.”

Jane stresses that “diversity and inclusion” are finally taking their place high up the agenda for most companies, and the financial, creative, reputational and legal situation for companies have been proven to improve when it is properly addressed and unconscious bias is an important part of that.

So what can we do about it? Jane has proposed the following 8 actions for a timely health check:

  1. Understand your own biases…. and the extent of them.

Do the eye opening online Harvard Implicit Bias test, where biases against race, skin tone, age, sexuality, weight, gender, race (including Aboriginal bias) can be assessed. Shockingly, three out of four Australians who have completed the test held negative views of indigenous Australians.

  1. Be actively anti-bias

We need to move along the spectrum from being actively biased, to understanding your biases to becoming actively anti-bias. For example, don’t let people get away with casual racism or sexism – call them out on it.  And the days of offensive jokes have long since passed.

  1. Engage System 2 thinking

We operate two systems of thought.  System 1 is our default autopilot pattern detector, it’s subjective, deals in generalisations and there is a speed/accuracy payoff. System 2 is sophisticated, rational, logical, deep…and slower than System 1. Consciously draw on System 2 thinking.

  1. Allow more time for decision-making

The more time you allow to make decisions, the better they will be and you will give your team the space and time to use their System 2 thinking.

  1. Review recruitment policies

Word job descriptions to ensure they are inclusive, use gender neutral descriptions, avoid gender coded words, use templates for decision making and remove details of name and gender when reviewing applicant’s submissions etc.

  1. Interview without bias

Slow down decision making, agree very specific criteria, bring bias awareness to top of mind, standardise interviews and monitor one another. After the interview, review to explore how you would have felt in their position, how would you see this if I was a different race or sex? Am I happy to be held accountable for this decision?

  1. Train your team in Unconscious Bias

…to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  However, training does not work in a vacuum and if there are systemic inequalities they must be addressed and discussed in a safe, non-judgemental space.

  1. Develop a personal action plan

Think of unconscious bias as an ongoing strategy more than one off training. Not every bias is outside the control of a person. Some biases are learned. Which means they can be unlearned.  We each need to take responsibility for our own actions, and their potential role in creating inequalities and amplifying injustice.  Even consciously changing one decision, or one thought process can make a difference.

Jane Mathews specialises in an engaging, one-hour introduction to Unconscious Bias.  She can be contacted at janemathews100@gmail.com or see Janemathews.com.au