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How We Break Unconscious Bias
‘This looks like the perfect plan for us!’, says one of the characters in the cartoon from our campaign Brave About Bias. But if he took the time to explore better options, he would discover there is also brilliant plan available – it’s just not right in front of him.
'Great! You’ll fit right in!’, another character announces to the person opposite her. But we see she has in fact hired her reflection.
These might be cartoons, but the points they are making are closer to the truth that we might like to admit…
If you have a brain, you have a bias
Each day, we encounter millions of pieces of information per second! Without us being aware, our brain creates mental ‘shortcuts’, saving time and energy in processing the world around us. These shortcuts are better known as unconscious biases. Especially when we are under some form of pressure, we tend to make choices based on what feels like the best one, because it is most familiar, fastest, easiest, closest, or safest. The tricky thing is that we genuinely believe we are being objective. In fact, the bias blind spot – a conviction that we are less biased than others – is one of the most common biases.
Five biases as inspiration for our cartoons
Our cartoons were inspired by SEEDS, a simple model from the Neuroleadership Institute. It summarises the many types of biases in five categories:
1. Similarity bias, when we prefer what is like us over what is different,
2. Expedience bias, when we prefer to act quickly rather than take time,
3. Experience bias, when we take our perception to be the objective truth,
4. Distance bias, when we prefer what’s closer over what’s farther away, and
5. Safety bias, when we protect against loss more than we seek out gain.
Why this topic is so important for C&A
At work, bias shows up in how we treat our co-workers, how we develop projects and products, and how we decide in our talent and recruitment processes. For example, we tend to hire people that share aspects of our own identity. But then we lose out on having teams with diverse talent which are more creative and innovative. Another example is that we will overlook someone for a promotion who is quiet, because we automatically assume a good leader is extraverted, or has the same working style as we do. But when we limit our talent pools, not necessarily choosing the best candidate. We may also stick to a business process that was successful in the past, but then fail to adapt to fast-changing consumer behaviour.
“Participating in DECIDE is simply a great investment for every leader wanting to improve their decision-making and to support growth at C&A!” – Birgit Kretschmer, Chief Financial Ofificer
“Now more than ever, we’re aware that our unconscious mind habits can get in the way of equity and good business. Learning to break bias at work through this great programme is a must for anyone who wants to lead their team towards more innovation, cooperation and creativity.” Jean Sebastien Guy, Chief People & Culture Officer
People belonging to underrepresented groups are most likely to experience the negative side of bias. Those who are different in their culture or background, those we have least experience with, or are further away from our “inner” professional circles. Even when your values support a diverse, fair and inclusive workplace, you can still unintentionally be making decisions that reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate inequity, without wanting to.
What can we do?
Awareness of biases is not enough to break them. We need to make bias mitigation a part of our way of working, cultivating new habits.
C&A is partnering with the NeuroLeadership Institute to launch a learning programme DECIDE that help remove bias at scale. In four steps, we will break bias together. Firstly, we will learn to label bias using the SEEDS model. The second step is to know how to mitigate bias – by applying smart tips and tricks to weaken the impact of bias on our decisions. Our third step is to learn how to engage with others. In the fourth and last step, we will meet to activate the learnings in a 'habit activation lab' webinar.
We will ask leaders to take responsibility for sharing the learning and engaging their teams. Employees that are eligible for the raining will be automatically enrolled. They will receive notifications through C&A academy and follow the learning for several weeks.
If after reading this you’re a breaking-bias enthusiast, you and everyone else at C&A are welcome to attend our company-wide 90-minute webinar on November 10, 10:00-11:30 am CET. The online meeting details are available at inside.canda.com.
If you are working in a store, please ask your leader to tune in, or share the recording.
If you are not able to join or find it difficult to follow events in English, please ask your leader to share the knowledge with you and others! How will your team help to break bias in your part of the organisation?
YOU can be brave with bias too!
With our eye on business transformation – a fair and future-proof C&A - this will definitely be worth it.