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How to Spot and Mitigate Unconscious Bias

Left unchecked, unconscious bias can derail DEI efforts. It’s important to identify and address these biases before they result in discriminatory practices.

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If you, like so many other organizations, are actively working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace, you’ve probably heard or participated in discussions around combating unconscious bias. In short, unconscious (or implicit) bias refers to beliefs or stereotypes around race, gender identity, religion, physical ability, etc., that color your perceptions, decisions, and actions.

Unlike conscious prejudice, which is intentionally discriminative, these attitudes are largely activated without our explicit knowledge. And because we form these subconscious attitudes through a lifetime of social, familial, and educational interactions, they are often deep-rooted and hard to untangle.

There are numerous types of implicit biases. Some relate to the way we regard our thought processes and reasoning abilities; others relate to our perceptions of an individual’s appearance, name, height, or gender. Regardless of the root, all of them can hurt your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts — so it’s crucial to identify and address these biases before they result in discriminatory practices.

Here’s how you can spot and mitigate unconscious bias through three key HR responsibilities:

1. Recruitment and Hiring

Is your recruitment and hiring process based on gut feelings or vibes? If so, you’re opening yourself up to implicit bias. For instance, the “horns effect” refers to the human tendency to make up our minds about someone based on a single negative attribute or experience. Imagine, for example, that a hiring manager’s opinion of a candidate sours after that candidate exhibits an annoying mannerism or fails to hold the door open for others. That’s the horns effect in action.

Rather than giving that person the benefit of the doubt, a hiring manager who’s not well-versed in this unconscious bias might disqualify them based on a minor faux pas. To combat the horns effect, remove gut instincts from hiring. Train your team to avoid rushing to conclusions when interviewing candidates. You might also consider conducting blind interviews and implementing standardized interview questions to engender impartiality.

Another method for reducing bias and increasing diversity is to form a hiring committee that includes different people from across your team. While many companies have embraced this approach, a hiring committee is not a cure-all for diversity issues. You still need to be on the lookout for conformity bias, otherwise known as peer pressure.

A group setting can make it tempting to go with the flow to fit in, regardless of your personal beliefs. To mitigate this bias, have your hiring team write down their thoughts on a candidate immediately after any interview. Once each team member has independently submitted a candidate assessment, everyone can sit down for a group chat.

2. Corporate Culture

HR leaders set the tone for the culture of their companies, but culture isn’t something you can mold in a vacuum. Like anything else, it’s susceptible to bias.

Consider authority bias, which is when ideas or opinions are given more consideration or weight because an authority figure voiced them. HR managers are some of the most authoritative figures at work, which means people probably listen when you speak. This means you need to be extra mindful of how this bias could embed itself in your culture. Are all of your ideas being implemented without any questions? If so, ask yourself whether your team feels encouraged to voice dissenting opinions — and whether you are open to receiving them.

Having a truly diverse and inclusive workplace means that people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. When you’re shaping your culture, it’s a good idea to identify your individual biases via the Implicit Association Test. This test can help you unearth any underlying beliefs you hold about groups of people.

3. Benefits Analysis

Unfortunately, good intentions aren’t enough to truly move the diversity, equity, and inclusion needle. Companies across various sectors are making substantial DEI investments, but things like pay equity remain elusive; white women still earn only 82 cents for every dollar earned by white men. And when you don’t have a strategy to close the gap, it’s easy to perpetuate it — even inadvertently.

For example, affinity bias might creep into compensation decisions. When company leaders are drawn to people of similar backgrounds, interests, and experiences, that natural affinity can cloud their judgment regarding performance reviews and salary recommendations.

There’s also a growing body of research around the role of implicit bias in health disparities. As an employer, you are likely your employees’ main source of health insurance. Does your health benefits package promote diversity and health equality? Simply providing a health insurance option isn’t enough; you need to ensure your employees can afford the care they need.

Consider that a third of working-age Americans are currently shouldering some form of medical debt, 81 million have less money in their savings account than their health plan’s deductible, and a quarter have delayed or forgone care because they don’t have the funds to pay for it. Paytient can help you close this gap by turning medical, dental, pharmacy, vision, and mental care costs into easy payment plans deducted from employees’ monthly salaries. To learn more about how Paytient can boost health equality, get in touch with a representative.

The human experience is multifaceted, and every decision and action is a product of conscious and unconscious thoughts. Unfortunately, those unconscious beliefs can manifest as mental shortcuts and habits that lead to discriminatory practices.

As Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” In the same way, we need to unpack our implicit bias so we can combat it and build more diverse, inclusive workplaces.

Healthcare Equity
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