The Brain & Bias: 4 Ways to Find and Fix Unconscious Bias

Bias is rooted in the human brain’s automatic processing systems. In today’s current social and political climate unconscious bias, and how organizations can avoid it, is at the forefront of corporate leaders’ minds.

Founder and managing director at IndentiCy Candice Bosteels explains,

“Our experiences, our preferences, our education, our upbringing all contribute to the model of the world we have, and it makes us who we are. That is not necessarily a bad thing – it becomes problematic when we start treating groups of people as less favorable, or we make bad decisions based on that model.”

When we allow our brains to use effortless shortcuts while processing situations, we run the risk of short-changing the people and situations we assess.

Unconscious bias is inherently human. So how can we prevent it from negatively impacting the decisions we make in the workforce? Trusted advisors who help businesses and business leaders in areas such as diversity and inclusion, organizational effectiveness, and culture shaping, weigh-in on four ways to find and fix unconscious bias.


1. Spot Our Biases

We can help deter unconscious biases by first identifying them. Bosteels says, “We all say that we use data for our decision making, but a lot of our decisions are actually driven by unconscious bias, by how we consider something to be safe, acceptable to us.”

It’s human nature to resist the unfamiliar. According to a study out of Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, job applicants with more English-sounding names were more likely to get invited to an interview over people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names, despite having the same qualifications.

Standard company processes can also reinforce unconscious bias. Job descriptions can discourage qualified applicants from applying depending on how the company evaluates and describes essential job criteria. For example, whole groups of candidates may be deterred because international travel is described as essential criteria for the job. 

Examples of biases within organizations are unfortunately commonplace. Once we recognize and identify bias, business leaders can begin to enforce measures to make adjustments.

2. Implement Corrective Maneuvers

Implementing corrective maneuvers can help avoid the pitfalls of unconscious bias. Tools to assist in moving away from bias include:

  • Exercise personal self-awareness
  • Diversify team leaders to include different cultural, geographic and industry experience
  • Build blended teams to increase awareness of different perspectives.
  • Use data to motivate and measure corrective change
  • Watch your triggers and reduce the chances of bias breaking through into behavior
  • Take part in ongoing unconscious bias training
  • Check your culture and manage change
  • Leverage technology to assist in initial screening, assessments, data-based performance reviews
  • Resist giving implicit biases the chance to operate

While implementing measures to limit unconscious bias is essential, it may not be enough. Hiring search consulting firms can help eliminate unconscious bias within an organization.

3. Utilize Search Firms and Consultants

Utilizing search firms can help organizations move away from familiar paths. Search firms and their consultants often lead by example and have an opportunity to challenge what clients think they need.

The co-founder and managing director at MIX Diversity Developers Hayley Barnard says,

“One thing search professionals can do is arm themselves with the data around profitability and diverse executive boards and leadership teams. There are significant research that will help clients understand the relationship between diversity in management and both innovation and profitability.”

Search consultants are also uniquely positioned to show clients they do not have to trade top qualifications for diversity.

4. Move Forward

Acknowledging unconscious bias within organizations has to be direct. Barnard says,

“We need to make the unconscious conscious,” and adds “jot down a list of why this candidate and not these other people, and that too can reduce the chance of bias affecting the process. Same with rushing – we fall into using the fast, effortless thinking so even taking a few more seconds to evaluate someone can reduce bias.”

Companies and business leaders can also modify management and recruit a more diverse workforce in order to cultivate culture change. Bosteels says, “More and more companies see a more diverse workforce as a key driver in their strategy, and other-minded people are brought in to accelerate the strategy companies are trying to achieve.” She continues, It’s not just by bringing in a diverse workforce that a company is going to succeed in their transformation. Change management work is needed to achieve a more inclusive environment.”

How Can AESC Help Business Leaders Address Unconscious Bias Within Their Organizations?

As our society becomes more focused on cultural awareness and inclusion, the importance of businesses and business leaders addressing unconscious bias will help drive needed culture change within organizations.

AESC Members partner with organizations and business leaders worldwide to provide solutions for their most critical leadership challenges. CEOs, CHROs and Board Directors are invited to connect with a consultant via AESC’s Global Directory.

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This article is an excerpt from 'Checking Your Blind Spot: Ways to Find and Fix Unconscious Bias' from AESC's Executive Talent Magazine, Issue 14.