I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at. -Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Bias in the News
Sephora, the beauty products retailer based in Paris closed all 400 of its U.S. stores to conduct diversity training in 2019, including its distribution centers and corporate offices.
The action was based on an incident involving the singer songwriter SZA at a Sephora store in Calabasas, CA. Her hit song appears on the Black Panther soundtrack. As she shopped, a store associate reportedly asked security to see if she was stealing. She was not.
Sephora announced the shutdown on the same day it introduced a new marketing program called “We Belong to Something Beautiful.” It included a video with a “Sephora Manifesto” saying it “believes in championing all beauty” and “standing fearlessly together to celebrate our differences.”
Could unconscious bias training prevent an incident like the one at a Philadelphia Starbucks in 2018, in which two black men were arrested after asking to use the restroom? “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to be a part of the solution,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.” Starbucks said that it would close its more than 8,000 stores in the United States for one day to conduct training.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Most of us know that bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences. Less familiar is the fact that there are two types of biases:
- Conscious bias (also known as explicit bias) and
- Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias)
It is important to note that biases, conscious or unconscious, are not limited to ethnicity and race. Though racial bias and discrimination is well documented, biases may exist toward from any social group. One’s age, gender, gender identity physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight, and many other characteristics are subject to bias. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.
Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
Unconscious bias can affect our decisions in all areas of life, but especially in the workplace. We may try to be as objective as possible when making important decisions, especially when these relate to work. However, as human beings, we are all subject to unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) in one way or another, but the more we are aware of this, the more we can mitigate it.
Unconscious bias causes us to make decisions in favor of one group versus another. If women face unconscious bias it is easy to see how aspects in the workplace can favor men. Studies have shown that it affects hiring decisions, salaries, and ultimately, career advantages. Women face enough challenges in the workforce and unconscious bias, ultimately, is just another source of stress and pressure.
How is unconscious bias different from blatant discrimination? Research in social psychology shows that people are able to control their unconscious biases. However, HR professionals also can help organizations uncover and combat unconscious bias and its effects in the workplace by:
- Providing awareness training
- Creating structures
- Labeling the types of bias that are likely to occur
Awareness training can also create an organizational conversation about what biases exist within the company and what steps the company can take towards minimizing them. Labeling them is also important because it brings them to the forefront and the conscious level, leaders and employees will have an increased level of awareness and how it affects decision-making processes, hiring, promotions, compensation, and organizational culture. Creating structures allows for more deliberative actions and provide opportunities to point out ways for peers to point out ways bias may be seeping in.
Inclusive Leaders Group provides custom in-person and virtual workshops for work groups at companies, and the Inclusive Leaders Journey virtual learning experiences for individuals.