Article (March-2020)


Breaking barriers : The unconscious bias in the workplace

Reena Tyagi

Designation : -   CHRO

Organization : -  ManipalCigna Health Insurance Company Limited, (Formerly known as CignaTTK Health Insurance Company Limited), Mumbai


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Workplaces are becoming increasingly more diverse in this century. Today, we are operating in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world - and it has become imperative for the organizations to support diversity and promote inclusion. Unconscious bias can be one of the key impediment in driving Diversity in organizations.

Unconscious Bias stems from deep-rooted values and social conditions in which we have been brought up. These biases can be very subtle and difficult to spot and address.

Research suggests that we unconsciously label people and things using easily perceived standards such as age, weight, skin color, and most commonly, gender. But we also categorize people based on their sexuality, disability, accent, educational level, social status, and job title, spontaneously allocating presumed qualities to anyone we subconsciously put in those groups. This more often than not leads people to make assumptions about them and take action based on those biases. This results in a tendency to rely on stereotypes, even if we do not consciously believe in them.

It is not uncommon for women to face Gender bias at workplace. It is one of the most common bias that exists in our society. This is an involuntary and automatic mental association constructed on gender, stemming from traditions, values, norms, culture and experience. Automatic associations flow into decision-making, allowing a hurried assessment of an individual based on gender and gender stereotypes. Globally, women are under-represented in organizations and the share of women declines as we go up the pyramid.

With people slowly becoming conscious of this ongoing issue, many companies have shown their commitment to gender equality by establishing family-friendly policies and enabling women's careers and professional networks.

In a workplace these biases can impact hiring, developing and talent retention decisions. These biases can also lead to lack of inclusivity and nurturing of a transparent environment which welcomes diverse views. This can have a longstanding impact on organization culture. Decisionsbased on anything but capability and cultural alignment are detrimental and prevent the organizations from having 'Best in Class' talent. These biases can sometimes even impact business decisions like eliminating or choosing market segment. Perceived discrimination can also affect several elements of employee life cycle, such as commitment, job satisfaction and work tension. It can at times lead to distrust, lowered self-esteem and a bigger possibility of good people exiting the organization.

At ManipalCigna, we value the differences employees bring to the workplace. These differences enhance our ability to serve our customers, and make meaningful changes in our communities, and deliver new and innovative health insurance products and services. ManipalCigna is committed to diversity and inclusion. We ensure that every member of our team feels a sense of belonging and is able to reach their fullest potential. Diversity and inclusion is a valuable asset to us and one we have and will continue to leverage to help accelerate our business journey and provide access to quality healthcare to millions of people in India.

To make making continued progress, it is important to create a culture where everyone feels included and able to contribute. Thus, organizations must take steps to thwart biases so that the presence of unconscious gender bias in an individual does not inevitably translate into prejudices in the workplace. To overcome the obstacles, organizations need to assess unconscious gender bias in their operations and measure its impact on their teams.

We should not forget that Conscious biases are easy to handle, it is the unconscious bias which has far reaching impact and is more difficult to address. These biases are mental associations from upbringing, social values and culture. Countering Unconscious biases needs conscious efforts. Awareness and acceptance that these biases exist is a good first step towards ensuring we create healthy diverse workplaces. With the acceptance in organizations that diversity is critical to their success, this is a good starting point.

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