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Improving Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

'Appearance Discrimination' is making workplaces more toxic.

Should the way you look be more important than your merit and your performance? Of course not, but nevertheless it’s still a problem in today’s workplace. Although we’ve come a long way, studies show that unconscious bias, which typically centers around a person’s appearance, is an issue we need to overcome if we are to have fair workplace practices for all.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias, or appearance-based discrimination, occurs when an employee or potential employee is treated differently based on how they look creating an imbalance between someone being evaluated for their performance versus based on the way they appear to the person evaluating them.

The Impact of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

A study by Univia states that women and younger people are most often targeted, and that almost a third of the women surveyed have experienced questionable practices when interviewing for a position or when being evaluated for a promotion or raise.

Unconscious bias is certainly not limited to women and younger people only. Almost 25% of all respondents say they have experienced appearance-based discrimination. Not only is this unfair to the people involved, but it’s bad for business as well. Many qualified people that could significantly help their companies succeed are being rejected for employment or past over for promotions.

It's interesting to note which aspects of personal appearance respondents to the Univia survey felt impacted their ability to feel comfortable in the workplace The top answer was age, followed closely by weight and tattoos, which impacted perceptions for 60%, 58%, and 57% of respondents, respectively.

These issues represent a slew of different types of discrimination in the workplace that center around someone's appearance and how they present themselves, and it’s essential that employers have programs in place to educate employees about unconscious bias and how to avoid it.

Improving Unconscious Bias

Kevin Hafen, CEO of Univia, speaks to this issue. He says:

"Attractiveness bias can greatly impact career success, from the hiring process down to raises and future promotions, This type of unfair advantage can hold many employees back from reaching their full potential and successfully utilizing their skill set. Eliminating [unconscious] bias in its' entirety is a difficult task, but admitting its' existence and learning to address the issues head-on can improve workplace culture and personal growth."

As with any company-wide initiative, it is important that everyone knows it important and engrained in the company’s culture, both during hiring practices and beyond. Mandatory bias and diversity training almost never works, but voluntary training showed the opposite effect: 9-13% increases in underrepresented groups in management across the board.

Voluntary programs work because participants see themselves as “pro-diversity.” They create a virtuous cycle, because the way we think about ourselves feeds directly into the way we act. Those champions, in turn, are likely to be naturally influential and pull their more skeptical coworkers into the fold.

eLearning Improves Unconscious Bias

Employers who use technology to mitigate bias found up to a 58% increase in new hire diversity alone.

Providing employees with accessible, convenient, and technology-friendly training that can be done anytime, and on any device, is a major contributing factor towards employees feeling unconscious bias training is voluntary and proactive, instead of mandatory and necessary. Employees digest information in micro-bursts, and employers can track employees’ progress and interest and make adjustments to the training accordingly. Scenario-based learning exercises and even gaming make these training more fun and interactive.

Digital Content Creators has developed courses to overcome unconscious bias. Let us assist your company in eradicating this form of hidden discrimination.


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