Today, employees come from all walks of life and have a wide range of backgrounds, religions, nationalities and lifestyle choices. While we like to pride ourselves on having eradicated discrimination, is this really the case? Does conscious or unconscious bias exist within the workplace? Perhaps even more importantly, does bias impact the decisions made within your workplace?

Since it’s easy for bias, especially unconscious bias, to go undetected, it’s important for employers and senior managers to actively identify situations where discrimination could occur and create safeguards to ensure this doesn’t happen.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Bias is how we treat others, whether favourably or negatively. It includes the stereotypes and opinions which either consciously or unconsciously influence how we treat our co-workers, subordinates, associates and just about anyone we interact with.

While we know it’s morally and legally wrong to treat someone differently based on prejudice it’s often impossible to avoid bias -- particularly unconscious bias. Unconscious bias, by its very nature, is difficult to identify as we’re usually unaware of the negative stereotypes underlying our actions. These negative stereotypes are infused into the very fabric of our society and in-turn unintentionally impact how we treat others. As such, unconscious bias is extremely difficult to challenge or change.

Equality Act 2010

In an effort to curb bias, the UK government created the Equality Act 2010. While the British legal system had anti-discriminatory laws, the Equality Act combined these laws to make it easier for employers and individuals to understand acceptable, legal behaviours as well as the consequences for non-compliance. In short, this act legally protects people with protected characteristics from discrimination both within the workplace and greater society.

How Does Bias Occur in the Workplace

Everyone, whether we recognise it or not, brings bias into the workplace. It impacts every aspect of our lives and occurs at all stages of an employees’ lifecycle. Almost all companies, from corporate giants like YouTube to small start-ups, are guilty of letting unconscious bias impact their decisions.

For example, following the release of a new app, YouTube realised that 5-10% of videos shot using the app were upside down. Engineers were baffled as to why so many users were “incorrectly” filming videos. Unconscious bias was to blame as Google engineers had unknowingly and unintentionally created an app which only worked for right-hand users. Left-hand users have to rotate their phones 180 degrees to get it into filming position meaning that the app captured their videos upside down.

CVs are another common pitfall for employers. Research shows that an individual’s name can determine their chances of landing that crucial interview. Regardless of experience level, candidates with ethnic sounding names are significantly less likely to receive an interview offer than individuals with Anglo-sounding names.

This problem is so widespread and severe that in 2015 then Prime Minister, David Cameron pledged to launch a new initiative. His new initiative would encourage companies to use “blind” CVs or CVs without information relating to protected characteristics like names, gender, age, etc. It was hoped that using “blind” CVs would eliminate unconscious bias from the recruitment process. However, 65% of companies still do not use “blind” CVs.

Clearly, we still have some work to do before discrimination is completely eradicated from the workplace.

Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Having a diverse workforce can significantly benefit employers as well as the UK economy. According to the McGregor-Smith Review, £24 billion could be added to the British economy, a 1.3% GDP increase, by realising the full potential of BME (black and minority ethnic) individuals. Diversity within the workplace creates other benefits too. For instance, it expands a company’s talent pools, encourages innovation, improves employee performance and allows organisations to seize new opportunities and maintain a competitive edge. With so many benefits, it’s surprising that diversity is still an issue.

Consequences of Unconscious Bias

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report Sex and Power 2011, “it will take another 70 years to achieve an equal number of women directors in the FTSE 100”. At present, women only hold 9.7% of executive positions on FTSE 100s. The situation isn’t much better for BME individuals either as unemployment rates are 4% higher than white workers.

Treating someone differently, whether during the interview process or when assigning responsibilities, can have some serious consequences for your business. Under the Equality Act, individuals that feel they have been discriminated against can file a complaint for compensation from their employer. A discrimination lawsuit will not only tarnish your company’s reputation but may also negatively impact your ability to attract talented individuals, remain competitive within local and international markets and ultimately harm your bottom line.

How Can Employers Tackle Unconscious and Conscious Bias?

Here at Change Recruitment, we recognise the importance of promoting diversity in the workforce which is why we’re proud to be hosting a seminar on the topic. Paul Skovron, from 3In Consulting, will be joining us this month to discuss diversity and inclusion within the workplace.

During this session, Paul will be exploring conscious and unconscious bias with a special focus on helping businesses avoid the negative impacts. He’ll also discuss some of the different ways and places that bias occurs, whether bias is preventable or if it’s part of an organisation’s culture or human instincts, the potential impacts of bias, and ways that companies can address this issue.

You’ll gain crucial insight into the issue and leave with concrete steps for addressing bias within your workplace.

Book Your Spot Today

Ready to tackle unconscious bias? Attend our Diversity and Inclusion Breakfast Seminar on Wednesday, October 24th at 8 am at our Glasgow office or Thursday, October 25th at 8 am at our Edinburgh office. Places are FREE but are expected to sell out fast so book your ticket today.

We look forward to seeing you there!