The Steps to Change podcast is about helping you to understand psychological concepts and ideas that can be utilised to improve the general work environment for employees. One such concept that many individuals might not be aware of is unconscious bias. You might not realise it, but everyone carries with them an implicit bias that informs their actions and contributes to workplace culture. While it’s not practical to try and change your unconscious bias, it is possible to manage it for the benefit of others.
In this episode of the podcast, your host Allen Liedkie is joined by Elisa Criado, a member of the Steps team who has recently become a client relationship director at Steps. Elisa has managed programs with clients that have dealt with the concept of unconscious bias directly, helping them to understand what it means and how it can be manipulated. Here, Elisa and Allen discuss the history of unconscious bias as a concept and go over some of the concerns that people have when it comes to uncovering their biases.
The term “unconscious bias” was first used in academic legal works related to discrimination, but the phrase in its current form is more an evolution of “implicit bias”, which was coined in the 1990s. You might already be aware of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is a psychological test developed to identify any unconscious biases that you might carry. The IAT is available to take for free online, so it’s highly recommended that you give it a go and see the results for yourself.
Essentially, unconscious bias is all about identifying any biases that you might have towards or against people of a certain gender, race, sexual orientation, or other minority categories. By taking an IAT test, you can reveal any subconscious feelings that you might have concerning these categories, especially in the workplace. At Steps, we use drama to help people identify the results of their unconscious bias, which then allows them to start the process of managing their subconscious attitudes.
A lot of people take what they learn about their unconscious bias and try to inherently change their behaviours. While this is a noble approach, it tends to fail, as people forget that these biases are unconscious. As such, it’s very challenging to change your views and reactions on a subconscious level. With this in mind, it’s better to try and manage your unconscious bias, taking steps to make a difference for others while recognising that you might not be able to change your subconscious mindset.
At Steps, we believe it’s important not to make the topic of unconscious bias political or moral, as it’s something that should be approached from an objective standpoint. We realise that this approach can be challenging, as people can have a visceral reaction to new information concerning unconscious bias. However, by maintaining open communication with colleagues and feeling comfortable talking openly about your opinions on certain subjects, you will contribute towards a pleasant working environment.
Generally, the clients that we work with are left surprised by the results of the IAT test. We tend to find that shared unconscious bias in a social group that has more power within the workplace results in a particular workplace culture being developed. Rather than challenge your unconscious bias, you should recognise that it exists and take steps to sidestep it. Making sure that you communicate with peers and ask them how they feel about the workplace hierarchy or whether their opinions are valued at work.
We firmly believe that the best results from our work come when clients recognise their unconscious bias themselves and figure out effective ways in which it can be managed. It’s important to remember that you’ll always be making improvements on this journey to managing your unconscious bias, so there is no end goal in mind. By striving for continuous improvement, you can help to set the example of how to manage your unconscious bias in the workplace.
One of the first steps to take in becoming a successful ally is to listen to the people around you. By taking on board the opinions of people from marginalised groups, you will gain a better understanding of their experiences. Remember, allyship is less about highlighting what you can see and more about bringing attention to invisible issues. The best way to go about becoming an ally is to really listen to the experiences of those around you and to develop a better understanding of the issues that they face.
After you’ve taken on board what others have told you, the next step is to recognise the issues and identify where you can help to make improvements. One of the most important things to recognise is your personal privilege. Privilege does not always relate to money, as it can instead refer to your personal position in the workplace and issues that you’ve avoided due to your personal circumstances. The See It stage of our program allows people to recognise when they are and aren’t being an ally to others.
Once you’ve recognised the struggles that people who are less heard have around you, you can take steps to speak up for them by using your privilege. If you are in a better position to raise an issue or to call out inappropriate behaviour, then it’s your obligation to take this action. As Shane notes in the podcast, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. Without taking the necessary steps to be an ally, you’re inadvertently reinforcing toxic workplace attitudes and behaviours.
The thing to remember with allyship is that you’re not moving towards an end goal but are rather on a continuous journey. You will never be done with being an ally, as there will always be people that require your support. Similarly, if you are open and accepting, you will constantly be learning new things about people from marginalised groups. By embracing your role as an ally, you will always be improving yourself and bettering the ways in which you can make your workplace a more pleasant place for peers.
There has been plenty of debate surrounding unconscious bias over the years, particularly where the IAT test is concerned. A lot of people question whether the test yields results that are truly unconscious, as we start to pay attention to potentially subconscious feelings while taking the test. This fact is, in part, why some specialists have started to coin the phrase “pre-conscious bias” to refer to the state that we’re in before we learn about our underlying feelings, attitudes, and behaviours.
One of the issues that face the Steps team when it comes to teaching about unconscious bias is that some people take the “unconscious” element and use it to shake off responsibility. Some individuals are under the impression that if they are not aware of these biases, they cannot be held accountable for their resulting behaviour. Similarly, when confronted with their unconscious biases, some people shrug off the results and question their integrity as they’re based on an abstract concept.
With all of the debate surrounding unconscious bias, it’s important to remember that this is a relatively new concept in the field of psychology. At Steps, we’re confident that going through the process of recognising your unconscious behaviours and feelings will set you on the right path to improving the atmosphere in your workplace. The best way to approach unconscious bias and use it to make active changes is to see the biases that you carry with you and develop effective means of outsmarting them.
Unconscious bias is a topic that is always changing, especially as further psychological research continues to take place. With this in mind, there’s always more to learn where unconscious bias is concerned, particularly when it comes to recognising your own feelings and managing change for the better. If you’d like to learn more about unconscious bias and find out how it is integrated into the Steps to Change program, reach out to our team today, and continue with your journey to self-improvement.