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Five steps to minimise unconscious gender bias

Unconscious bias occurs when beliefs affect decision-making without conscious awareness. Unconscious associations that link women with families, and men with careers are common, and have the potential to impact a range of recruitment, development, promotion and pay decisions.

Women are less likely to be recruited to management roles and continue to be paid less. Cause for concern? Yes. Want to do something about it? You can.

Here are some tips to reduce the likelihood that unconscious beliefs will bias your decision-making, taken from Dr. Karen Morley’s new book Gender Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide.

1.    Slow down and focus your attention

Unconscious beliefs come into play when we make decisions quickly and intuitively. Make sure you take the opportunity to deliberate over decisions that involve women. Pay mindful attention to the likelihood of bias in a range of situations, such as selection and development. Be aware that bias is not just possible, it’s likely. Make use of deliberative decision processes to help minimize the power of unconscious beliefs. Take the time to consider a variety of options, weighing the costs and benefits of each.

2.    Cultivate empathy and connection

Emphasize the personal relationship first, then move to task orientation. Focus attention on the individual you are engaging with, or making a decision about. Cultivate empathy, expect their perspective to be different, seek to understand.

3.    Question yourself

Rather than presuming you know the right answer or approach to a problem or decision (even if you do!), take a step back and question your motives, needs and interpretation. This is especially important if the situation is highly familiar and you believe you have all the information you need. What’s another way to see this? What further information do I need? What am I assuming? What else could I do?

4.    Review multiple perspectives

Identify one or two people with whom you can explore multiple perspectives that challenge your thinking and help develop a broader frame of reference. They might not be the usual people you network with. Colleagues, mentors and coaches who are prepared to help challenge your thinking provide great support for opening up your decision-making to greater scrutiny and give you an opportunity to take a variety of perspectives.

5.    Commit to action

The fundamental question is ‘what can I change?’ Dr. Morley’s book Gender Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide has a series of actions from which you can choose to help minimize bias and improve decision-making. Identify one to two areas that you want to change, then create a daily checklist of action. And how to make sure you get the change you seek: take three minutes to review your checklist at the end of each working day. This will keep your goals in mind, help you notice your progress, and fine-tune what you need to do tomorrow to make further progress.

Dr. Karen Morley is co-founder of Gender Worx, a division of Insync. She helps executives and organizations increase leadership effectiveness. Karen is particularly passionate about women being given equal opportunity to develop and succeed in senior roles. She advocates and works with organizations to promote strategies and practices to achieve gender-balanced leadership.

Dr. Morley’s new book, Gender Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide, is available as an eBook.

Want to learn more?

To determine the extent of the unconscious bias across your organisation and the differences in each level and division, find out more about our gender diversity survey.

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