Is Unconscious Bias Holding You Back?

Without even realising, Unconscious Bias may be undermining your work and holding you back! But it can be overcome, according to Supplier Diversity Expert Kristal Kinsela

Do you ‘look’ like a manager? Do you ‘sound’ successful? Do you ‘talk’ like someone who has potential? Who decides any of this, anyway?! 

The frustrating truth is that we all decide this, and mostly, we do so every day. It all happens through a process that many of us have heard of, yet few understand, and it’s called ‘unconscious bias’. 

Unconscious bias, according to Supplier Diversity Expert Kristal Kinsela, are unconscious biases or prejudices that we form unknowingly, and that cause us to treat groups of people in unfair ways. These biases, unfortunately, are outside our conscious awareness, yet they form the basis of patterns of behaviour when it comes to diversity, and ultimately, when it comes to us deciding who should or shouldn’t hold certain job titles or succeed in certain ways. 

Unconscious bias can hold you back … and it can also cause you to hold others back. 

But it doesn’t have to. Here’s a deeper look into what it is, and how you can make yourself accountable. 

In what areas of procurement is unconscious bias most common? 

Have you ever made a judgement about a supplier based on their appearance? Have you ever met a stakeholder, only to immediately question their competence before they even opened their mouth? Perhaps you have preconceived ideas about logistics suppliers, without ever having dealt with them before? 

All of these assumptions are based on unconscious bias, and can be harmful. They can impede the success of those you deal with … as well as impeding your own career success. 

Unconscious bias can, unfortunately, lead to us making decisions – including important career decisions and actions – on assumptions, as opposed to on facts. Bias is truly a dangerous path. 

According to Kristal, in procurement, unconscious bias is most prevalent in the following areas: 

  • Existing supplier relationships 
  • Approaches to market
  • Supply market analysis 
  • Policy

If your job involves work in these areas – which most of ours do – it’s important that you understand your own bias and start acting on moving past it. 

What’s the first step in addressing unconscious bias? 

When it comes to how you address unconscious bias, acknowledging that it exists is a great starting point, Kristal says. Specifically, she recommends that you: 

Try to recognise in yourself situations and contexts that trigger particular beliefs, and that may lead us to make decisions that are not diverse or fair. 

Further, observe situations in your own workplace and be courageous enough to call out behaviour.”

An example of this from a procurement perspective may be how you (or potentially a colleague) approach working with Indigenous suppliers. Are you (or someone in your team) approaching them with certain ideas about them? It’s important to recognise that unconscious bias might be at play so you can work on strategies to prevent it. 

An action plan to address unconscious bias 

Unfortunately, many biases that we hold have been years in the making, so moving past them isn’t as easy. But there are three things that Kristal believes we can all do to ensure that our unconscious biases don’t hold us back: 

  1. Awareness: When it comes to beating unconscious bias, awareness is absolutely key. All procurement professionals should endeavour to become aware of their own personal beliefs and behaviours, and try to understand how they react to certain people, events and circumstances. 
  2. Acceptance: Questioning long held beliefs can feel really uncomfortable, but another essential step for procurement professionals is to acknowledge and accept that they, too, perpetrate unconscious bias. Accepting the existence of certain behaviours and beliefs helps change them. 
  3. Action: Of course, the final step in address unconscious bias is to take action. Every day, procurement professionals should draw on their awareness and acceptance to act differently.

Ultimately, Kristal says: 

“All procurement professionals need to band together to make a conscious choice to not react in the same way you have always done.”

Do you feel as if unconscious bias is holding you back, either your own, or others? Let us know your experience in the comments below.