Unconscious Bias In Action

Today’s ‘Ask the Expert’ event was led by A Human Agency’s Co-CEO, Simon Corcoran. A small group of Sydney’s top HRD’s joined us for an informal lunch to hear Simon’s perspectives on ‘Diversity’s little black dress’, the ‘must have’ of the corporate agenda, the buzzword of the moment – Unconscious Bias.

There are countless organisations exploring how it impacts their business, leaders, and key decisions. Unfortunately, most organisations are bundling it with diversity and inclusion efforts only, as opposed to taking decisive and meaningful action.

Unconscious Bias

Many organisations are investing big bucks in unconscious bias training and assessments to help their leaders and teams better understand the biases they have. It is usually coupled with diversity statistics and the need to become more aware of the decisions across the business; however little is done on providing employees with the necessary tools when they return to their desks that give them the ability to recognise bias and build an action plan to counter it.

Simon provided examples of how some organisations believe that unconscious bias is the golden ticket to solving all things diversity oriented, but sadly told us that such a ticket doesn’t exist. His advice is to normalise bias through every day decisions that assess systems one and two thinking.

System one is the fast thinking, fast action part of the brain called the limbic brain that is responsible for our intuition, or gut instincts. System two is much slower and is centred from the language part of the brain called the pre frontal cortex. Our decisions are based on the information created, then passed on to system two for confirmation. If system two agrees with system one, we have a match. If there isn’t a match, system two will look for alternative options based on other similar events.

It’s all very complex, but suffice to say that unconscious bias isn’t something that is going to be learned and retained after a two hour training session. To address unconscious bias, organisations must look across their business to seek out where the key decisions are being made, so that they can put in place direct, and actionable checkpoints. Whether it’s in recruitment, performance management, talent identification, remuneration, work allocation, sales targets, or even budgets, they all need checkpoints to assess any bias that can positively or negatively impact the outcome. They’re unintended consequences, most of the time.

When organisations examine, build, embed, and refine their processes and systems, unconscious bias becomes the norm. It is necessary to respectfully challenge the status quo by asking counter-factual questions. These are questions that challenge the bias in order to break down the thinking behind it.

  • Examine where key decisions and assumptions are being made across the business.
  • Unconscious Bias Lunch EventBuild checkpoints around the decisions and assumptions to safeguard them.
  • Embed the checkpoints through a change management approach. It’s more than training.
  • Refine it constantly. It’s a work in progress and needs constant attention.

Simon offered three primary tips for individuals to begin catching their biases:

1. Slow down your thinking – write it down.

2. Ask counter-factual questions – ask the 5Ws (what, when, where, why, who).

3. Two options + two outcomes – write down two options with two outcomes to compare.

We would like to thank our guests for  joining this interesting session and extend our appreciation to Simon for sharing his insights.

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