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Uncovering subconscious biases Employee sensitization

Sharpening employee awareness is a multi-faceted topic: As a first step, employees must become aware of the direct or indirect discrimination against certain groups in the organization.

It is also important that language is understood as a strategic instrument and is actively used as such in everyday interaction. This way, certain supportive terms and phrases establish themselves in the organization’s language and thus in its culture. And lastly, the subconscious biases that often have a significant influence on our decisions have to be uncovered. Special training programs and coachings can help to achieve this goal.

How can hidden bias be avoided?

Everyone has internalized certain subconscious role stereotypes or biases. Women are often discriminated against because of an alleged lack of characteristics considered to be typically male – like decisiveness or assertiveness. Sensitization – in particular of managers with staff responsibility – aims to uncover and overcome such biases. This requires the unconditional commitment of an organization’s top management.

Special trainings are very helpful and should be mandatory for managers with leadership or personnel responsibility, potentially as an integral element of other trainings. These sessions should be conducted by experienced internal or external coaches. When key messages and insights become a permanent ingredient in the internal communication mix, for instance in form of videos or written testimonials, they help to shape organizational perception. In many cases, some of the core HR processes need to be adapted, including for instance the optimization of hiring procedures or the agreement on defined assessment criteria for promotion. Lastly, fair evaluation criteria need to apply equally for every employee at all times, from the first job interview to periodic performance reviews to the promotion into a leadership position.

What are key success factors?

  • All hierarchy levels, and particularly executives and HR decision makers, must be included in the drive to uncover and overcome subconscious biases.
  • Awareness of preconceptions and biases should be coached in the context that is particularly relevant for the manager, for instance in job interviews or performance reviews.
  • Sensitization measures should focus equally on men and women.
  • Consequences of preconceptions and biases should be examined beyond the organization as such, for instance in the context of customer or supplier relations.

Tips for smaller organizations

  • Contracting external trainers and cooperating with similar organizations can help keep expenses down