NZLS CLE offers a free webinar on unconscious bias. For more information, visit the NZLS CLE website.
The New Zealand workforce is becoming more diverse. Diversity is a fact, and describes characteristics of a population such as gender, ethnicity, religious belief and sexual orientation.
Inclusion is a behaviour describing how people are treated. To make the most of diversity, organisations must also be inclusive. One barrier to achieving an inclusive workplace is unconscious bias.
Everyone has biases shaped by their social environment, background and personal experiences. Some biases are conscious, such as choosing to hire individuals with a certain amount of experience.
If someone has an unconscious bias, they are unaware of their preferences and think they are acting objectively. Many different characteristics such as height, physical appearance, gender, ethnicity and age can be subject to unconscious bias. Working arrangements can also be affected by unconscious biases such as negative preconceptions about flexible work. Unconscious bias affects multiple areas in the workplace, including:
While often unnoticed, research has shown that unconscious bias is just as harmful if not more damaging than overt bias.
Gender equality and inclusion are not just important for individuals, but also firm performance. Research by McKinsey & Co has shown a positive relationship between diversity and business success. Several important factors include:
Fortunately, unconscious bias is becoming better understood and more widely focused on in the New Zealand workplace. The Law Society’s suggestions for firms wanting to address unconscious bias are to:
Addressing unconscious bias is also important for individuals. New Zealand lawyers can contribute to an inclusive workplace and make better decisions by recognising where unconscious bias exists, and taking steps to counter it. As an individual, some steps you can take to counter unconscious bias are to: