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Becoming aware of our unconscious bias


Becoming aware of our unconscious bias is an important step in becoming a more inclusive organization. We need to be diverse and inclusive to tackle our business challenges. We achieve this by having engaged employees who feel welcome and respected at Umicore and by promoting diversity of thought. But what is unconscious bias and how can we be better at recognizing it?

Katharina Kerl
, Talent Development Manager, explained it: “98% of the decisions we take are taken unconsciously. Which is a good thing because it helps us in our daily life. Without this unconsciousness I would probably still be at home preparing to go to work deciding how to make my coffee, and so on. It makes certain parts of our life automatic. This unconsciousness is developed through our socialization and the environment we are in. If you are exposed to different people, environments, cultures, … you have a broader mindset.” ​​​​​​​

A broader mindset means you understand others and how they act, even how they might act or be different than you. It also allows you to recognize it without judging it or rejecting it.

“There are many reasons why having a broader mindset promotes diversity. In recent years, the world, technology, markets, everything is changing. It is even faster for an organization and we need to react to these changes.” 

Diana Dai, Talent Development Manager

A diverse workforce will help us address these challenges and do it including different perspectives. “For people to be really engaged, they need an organization where they feel valued and respected for their ideas and for who they are. Given the growth in front of us, diversity and inclusion will enable us by enlarging our talent pools and increasing the internal mobility of our employees”, shared Diana.

Géraldine Nolens, EVP, is a great believer in the importance of diversity and inclusion, together with her Management Board colleagues: “We have a tremendous growth ahead of us and will need to hire more talented colleagues than ever before. We can only move ahead and be successful in today’s fast evolving and challenging world if we are able to mobilize truly diversified teams. The only way to do that is through real diversity of thought. We need colleagues with different backgrounds, cultural affinities, characters and experiences.”

Katharina believes becoming aware of our unconscious bias is needed to promote diversity within an organization: “The issue with unconscious bias is that you do not think about it and that you are not aware that it is unconscious. In certain situations it is important to be conscious. Think about a team discussion: if you have a more critical image of a colleague who is sharing an idea, your unconsciousness would probably tell you that this cannot be a good idea. We do not do it on purpose of course. And if we are under stress, the chance is even bigger that we take more unconscious decisions. In these times, we need to focus on it even more.” 

Diana herself has experienced unconscious bias recently: “I changed my role from site HR to a regional team which requires me to travel to work physically together with my teams. My colleagues, friends and family were asking if I could make this work with my son who is in primary school. This would probably be less the case for men who are travelling for business.” Katharina had a similar experience as well: “A colleague of mine organized a big event and one of the participants came to her looking for the organizer of the event. The participant could not believe that my colleague was in charge as she was still very young.”

That’s why we at Umicore have created an e-learning on unconscious bias which is mandatory for all managers and strongly recommended for everyone in the organization.  “You can make it your own. The e-learning invites you to reflect on your personal situation and share and discuss with colleagues. We all can have an impact”, shared Katharina and Diana agrees:  “It gives you a very broad view on the different types of biases. It’s not only useful in your work environment but also in your social life. It takes only 30 minutes of your time and you take away a lot of insight on how you can have an impact.”