How To Use Coaching To Manage Unconscious Bias In The Workplace

As an executive coach, you’re a great lead and advocate for companies looking to prevent the harmful repercussions of unconscious bias in the workplace. While it may seem nearly impossible, you can implement strategies to help clients maintain self-awareness, general mindfulness, and call attention to their biases through targeted questions.

The most obvious ways bias shows up are in the first things we notice when we meet someone new; their gender, skin color, and age.  Unconscious bias is dangerous because it leads us to stop listening without fully understanding, hearing only what is convenient for us. We might make conclusions or decisions without wholly knowing the details of a situation. We block ourselves off from learning opportunities and even potential relationships.

There are several types of bias we regularly see in our daily lives. Below are a few:  

  • Cognitive Bias. The tendency for people to do or think things simply because other people do or think them, like skipping class in high school because your friends did. 
  • Confirmation Bias. Favoring information that confirms your existing beliefs, even if you’re presented facts that prove you wrong. You’ve probably seen economic or political arguments arise because of this.
  • Expedience Bias. You may make a quick decision based on whatever information feels right to you at the time, like assuming someone is trustworthy because they are friendly.

Coaches are a great asset for businesses looking to create inclusive workplaces and expand beyond tired stereotypes. You can guide others toward positive changes and mindfulness that creates happier, more productive work environments.

Here are some steps you could take as a coach to help a business eliminate unconscious bias in their workplace:

Analyze the company culture 

Bad habits can’t be stopped if your client is unaware of them. Help identify where and how an unconscious bias is creating a toxic environment by asking the hard questions. In your client’s answers, you’ll find where stunted thinking is holding them back.  Look for other clues such as animosity among staff members or a high turnover rate and address them with company leaders and anyone in charge of recruitment. It likely begins as early as the scouting and hiring process. Teach executive teams how to be more supportive of their employees and encourage a welcoming work culture by pinpointing the behaviors or procedures that need to change.

Seek the right skills

Human brains like to take shortcuts, this is why people make assumptions based on stereotypes. For example, statistically, if we think someone’s attractive, we’re also likely to assume they’re more competent and trustworthy. Teach your client to ignore any impressions based on physical appearances and look at the simple facts; what is the candidate’s work history? What skills can they bring in that would be complementary to the current team? Help them recognize when they make an assumption and ask them why that was their first reaction and where it might come from. With your guidance, they’ll learn to take age, gender, and race completely out of the equation and cultivate a team based on their merits.

Diversify established teams/ departments

People with a diverse set of skills and experiences complement one another by filling in the gaps, providing better ideas, and more solutions for businesses. Teach your client to identify individuals or groups with skill sets that can be put to good use outside of their departments. Reevaluating the team’s skills and encouraging new collaborations can inspire brighter brainstorming sessions, better results, and improve feelings of compassion and camaraderie among employees.

Find commonalities with everyone

People are naturally drawn to others that have things in common with them, so eliminating unconscious bias requires diligent daily practice. Self-awareness can become second nature for your clients with exercises that will reprogram their minds to see everyone as being part of their group. Encourage communication practices that will help employees confidently start conversations and improve their work relationships. Goal-oriented objectives are also a great way to unite employees, even if it’s as simple as, “introduce yourself to five coworkers you’ve never met by Friday.”

Hold everyone accountable

Through actionable plans, you’ll help businesses restructure and set criteria in place that will hold everyone accountable in dissolving the biases that create company division. It takes the entire community to cultivate a positive, safe, and welcoming atmosphere. This can only be achieved if everyone, from executives to staff members, is held responsible for their actions, considers feedback earnestly, and engages in open communication so that everyone feels heard and valued. 

Great coaches help organizations achieve equality and unity through guidance that will adapt as the company grows long after the coaching relationship has ended. Ideally, businesses will continue to encourage collaboration and build strong foundations of inclusivity based on your recommendations and the tools you leave them with. By removing unconscious bias from their hiring processes and internal procedures, they’ll improve company morale, productivity, and their bottom-line.

If you are interested in learning more about how to foster change in the workplace, consider CoachDiversity’s Coach Training Program. Offered several times a year, there are three levels of training available, all designed to suit your needs. Learn more here or contact us today