The topic of unconscious bias in the workplace can be a difficult topic to address so here are five expert-approved ways employees can broach the issue.
In recent years, the phrase unconscious bias has come to the fore as one of the discriminating ways through which systematic racist structures thrive at the detriment of Black people and other people of colour in the workplace.
Simply put, unconscious bias is when people make judgments or decisions based on prior experience, their familiar thought patterns, expectations or pre-conceived notions, for a positive or negative outcome, without even realising they are doing it.
When it comes to the workplace, the topic of unconscious bias can be a difficult topic to address from an employee perspective given the inherent power/privilege structures. The nature of unconscious bias is that many folks are unaware of their biases and behaviours that may cause harm. When issues regarding harmful impacts are raised, organisations, leadership, and individuals often typically become defensive (as do most individuals when critiqued), so it’s important to find tactful and meaningful ways to proactively address unconscious bias in the workplace.
We spoke to Dr Anjali Gowda Ferguson, a mental health expert and culturally responsive psychologist who shared five different ways employees can sensitively encourage their organisations to eradicate instances of unconscious bias within the workplace.
Read on for her five tips.
Use a feedback sandwich
A feedback sandwich is an effective way to provide critique because it lowers defences which therefore makes digesting feedback easier. To provide a feedback sandwich start with a praise, then follow with your critique, and end in praise. For example: ‘I wanted to thank you for the efforts the organisation has placed on creating a collaborative workplace. I would love to discuss ways we could create a more inclusive workforce moving forward. Thank you for being so understanding and in creating a welcoming environment’.
Suggest organisation-wide anonymous feedback
One option to elicit some discussion may be to create an anonymous open-ended survey with some basic prompts around needs, strengths, and areas of consideration. Afford all employees an opportunity to complete the survey and present the results to leadership.
Complete company-wide unconscious bias training
Often, people are unaware of what/how unconscious biases operate. It is helpful to have training with educational basics provided by an expert in the field. These trainings typically include activities and experiential dialog to help broach difficult topics and make folks aware of their blinders. If the trainings are offered as part of professional development or a luncheon for the entire organisation, it can make the principals more universally accessible and reduce defences.
Consider suggesting a workgroup/focus group that is protected
The only way to work through biases is through discussion and exposure to diverse perspectives. Often, ethnic minority individuals risk participation in these discussions in a work environment due to the possibility of retaliation or harm. If possible, creating avenues within the work environment that are safe and protected to have more personal dialog or explore complex issues can offer a space for more understanding.
Create an ongoing learning series
One suggestion that can keep diversity initiatives at the forefront is to create an ongoing learning series. Anti-bias work is a lifelong process, and many organisations have the misconception that one training a year will address the needs. However, a strong body of literature suggests otherwise. Anti-bias work must become a part of daily conversations. One way to spark dialog may be to create a learning series by inviting diverse speakers and educators to the organisation to share information on relevant topics or current events. This approach will ensure that dialog remains present, and that information is coming from expert sources.