Unconscious bias is something we all experience, but most of us aren’t aware of the enormous impact it can have on a business. We discussed this and more in Procurement Leaders’ latest Virtual Roundtable, a teleconference open to all members.
Here are just a few ways unconscious bias can affect a business:
We kicked off the discussion by sharing personal experiences of unconscious biases and how these have affected teams or individuals. A common theme was that many companies’ HR departments have supportive policies in place, particularly around maternity packages and flexible working. Less positive, although not hugely surprising, was the reaction attendees (or their colleagues) said they received when they took advantage of these benefits. Participants reported these varied from sighs and looks to comments about ‘enjoying their time off’ when attending a doctor’s appointment or leaving early to collect a child from school, indicating many biases are still alive and well in the workplace.
These attitudes create an uncomfortable working environment and can often cause people to avoid taking advantage of the benefits available to them. While a single comment might not seem a cause for concern, it’s the biases underpinning the comment that have a larger impact, including the areas listed above.
Prior to the call, one attendee asked: "Can we ever truly be rid of unconscious bias?" The answer seems to be no, probably not. We all have ingrained ideas and opinions that we pick up during our lives and, if we aren’t aware of them, it is impossible to mitigate them. As an individual, you can begin to identify any biases you may have by taking ‘an implicit bias test.’ As a first step, this will highlight instances where you feel biased, which will enable you to make better-informed decisions when relevant situations arise.
Beyond what you can do personally, a seemingly straightforward way to combat these insidious attitudes would be to implement unconscious bias training. A variety of providers offer online or in-person training for your organisation, team or individuals. While many corporates are implementing this training, there have been some questions about its effectiveness. Critics of this training state participants need to be open to it and a one-day session is not enough to see positive developments.
If you do invest in unconscious bias training, it’s imperative to implement regular follow-up or feedback sessions, as well as track employees’ incremental changes and progress over time to see if it is successful. One attendee shared how she took part in unconscious bias training and participated in a ‘train the trainer’ scheme. This meant she could then return to other teams throughout the business and repeatedly deliver the training and the follow-up internally.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.