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Unconscious Bias and the Workplace – Construction Inclusion Week 2021

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Whether it is through socialization or through individual experiences, we ALL form certain behaviors and biases that help us navigate our worlds. While biases can have positive or negative outcomes, we should learn to be aware of our unconscious biases, especially at our workplace. As part of our ongoing Construction Inclusion Week series, in this article, we tackle unconscious bias in the workplace. (If you missed yesterday’s article, click here.) 

Very simply, “unconscious bias” or “implicit bias” is a prejudice that a person is unaware of holding. It can be any number or variation of social stereotypes about social or identity groups. Unlike explicit bias, these prejudices tend to manifest themselves in subtle ways. This simple math problem helps highlight not just how unconscious bias works, but how it can potentially shape your thinking at work.  

Unfortunately, the costs of unconscious bias are not as simple as the previously mentioned math problem. Unconscious bias impacts how workers engage with their jobs, often bearing the weight of these biases. Employees working in these kinds of environments retaliate by reducing their contributions to their organizations. In all, Gallup estimates that worker disengagement due to unconscious bias costs U.S. companies $450-550 billion each year. Suddenly, the effects of unconscious bias are more high stakes than a simple math problem. 

We can all help fight against unconscious bias; it is all about adopting the RIGHT behaviors. What are RIGHT behaviors all about:  

  • Respect 
  • Inclusion 
  • Generosity 
  • Humility 
  • Trust 

At their core, tackling unconscious bias is about applying the Golden Rule (treat others how you would like to be treated) and holding yourself and your team accountable when straying from that rule. Applying RIGHT behaviors also requires an environment that fosters openness across the organizational structure. Additionally, the impact of unconscious biases can be fought through self-reflection and training

Unconscious biases are not just personal issues that we must address as individuals, unconscious biases have the potential to irreparably harm your business’s reputation, its ability to attract and retain talent – hurting the viability of our industry’s future. Much like a good safety plan, an organization should consider how to mitigate the potential for unconscious biases (self-awareness, respect for others, a culture of inclusion, etc.) rather than trying to “fix” an issue when it arises.