Being upstanding in the workplace08 Aug 2019
Many of our behaviours are so automatic, we're not even aware of them. This habit is called unconscious bias. At work, it may mean we unduly form opinions about the abilities of our colleagues. Alternatively, unconscious bias might affect our ability to take advice or suggestions that are very different to our own ideas.
Unconscious bias and diversity
There's plenty of research showing that having a wide range of skills, life experiences and perspectives in the workforce encourages higher levels of creativity and innovation. However, this level of diversity means tackling unconscious bias at all levels.
Recruiters must be aware of how their unconscious biases could impact their decision making. Meanwhile, all colleagues should be encouraged to identify how those with different skills and experiences can help them work better.
Recognising unconscious bias
Opening your eyes to how your colleagues interact with each other is the first step to recognising unconscious bias. Notice when:
- Someone makes a joke that not everyone understands due to cultural differences and it isn't explained.
- A colleague doesn't contribute to a meeting, yet nobody takes the time to ask for their opinion.
- Your team members default to asking the thoughts or assistance of someone they're friends with.
- Colleagues laugh at one person's suggestions or mistakes more frequently than they do other people's.
In all of these situations, unconscious bias might be at play. When you witness these types of actions, consider if everyone would be treated the same way in these situations, or whether the behaviour is specific to an individual. Question how the behaviour affects those concerned, and their daily experiences.
Being upstanding at work
When you see unconscious bias playing out, you can choose to be a bystander or an upstander. You either allow negative behaviour to continue, or you challenge it.
Some approaches you could try include:
- Distraction: If you don't feel able to call out poor behaviour directly, distract the perpetrator. This gives everyone chance to move on and provides some respite for anyone who was negatively affected.
- Direct action: Tell the person displaying negative behaviour that what they're doing is unfair, unnecessary or hurtful. You can use phrases like "I think" or "I don't agree" to avoid pointing the finger directly while still challenging them.
- Go public: You don't have to call out a specific incident. You can talk more generally about what you consider poor behaviour. If you're in a position to do so, organise team training sessions around unconscious bias and how to tackle it.
If you're keen to improve your skills in identifying and addressing unconscious bias, consider our Be Upstanding course. We offer regular training sessions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.