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Unconscious bias in leadership

How to avoid unconscious bias in leadership

Being a leader can be both rewarding and challenging even for the most effective leaders. Even the best leaders make mistakes. One common challenge faced by leaders is unconscious bias. Put simply unconscious bias is when your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context impact on your decisions and your actions with you realising.

How does unconscious bias affect organisations?

A leader may find that they are more inclined to allocate a favourable task, responsibility or even a position to a person they most resonate with. Even during the hiring process, a leader may hire employees who exhibit certain characteristics that the leader can relate to. Unconscious bias can also happen when managers who have the responsibility of mentoring or coaching pick protégés from their social network. Though it is seemingly intentional, their unconscious mind favours individuals of a certain type affecting their conscious behaviour.

Unaware of unconscious bias, a leader may find that eventually, all the decisions made by them are inclined a certain way. For example, employees hired have similar characteristics, or certain jobs are allocated to individuals from similar social circles, limiting diversity in the organisation. The culture that is formed as a result may end up leaning towards certain personalities and behaviours.

How can unconscious bias be avoided?

Leaders should be made aware that unconscious bias can happen at the workplace and has repercussions. For example, it is possible that qualified individuals may be denied certain positions due to unconscious bias by the leader. Leaders being made aware about the possibility of unconscious bias occurring can influence them to campaign for exclusive leadership. This can be achieved by seeking, leveraging and evaluating perspectives from different areas before making a decision. For example, hiring or promotion decisions should not be left to one individual but a team. This will allow for opportunities to hire and retain diverse personalities and talents which will benefit the organisation’s overall performance.

Another way to avoid unconscious bias is to aim to develop shared values and identities so that individuals recognise and appreciate each others’ differences. This can be achieved by building an organisational culture that encourages embracing differences, but does not place emphasis on things like social status.

Regular training and development of leaders is important to keep informing them of arising issues in leadership. When leaders are aware of such issues and in this case unconscious bias, they will coach other employees on recognising and dealing with unconscious bias to ensure everyone is treated equally. This is because unconscious bias can trickle down even to customer care where individuals will find they treat customers differently depending on how much they relate to them.

Conclusively, modern leaders need to understand that unconscious bias can happen to any leader, and creating awareness throughout the organisation will play a role in preventing unconscious bias and other hindrances to diversity.


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