Unconscious Bias – Knowing it Exists and What to Do About It

Unconscious Bias – Knowing it Exists and What to Do About It

When you last met someone new, what were your perceptions? How did your views of the world influence the way you processed what you thought about them or the group they belonged to? Did you even know that you were making judgements based on how your brain processes messages about certain groups?

This is known as unconscious bias – the pre-programmed views we have about different groups of people and thus making judgements about them. 

Studies show that we all carry some sort of unconscious bias based on life experiences. To quote:

“The implicit associations we harbor in our sub conscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations are generally believed to develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages (Castelli, Zogmaister, & Tomelleri, 2009; Kang, 2012; Rudman, 2004a, 2004b).” https://www.colorado.edu/odece/sites/default/files/attached-files/rba03-sb4converted_5.pdf

The first step is to acknowledge that Unconscious Bias exists – something that can be very difficult especially when we don’t realise that we carry these implicit biases. 

Our COO recently attended a Diversity & Inclusion program with Cornell University and insights were a revelation. 

Often, we go through life viewing it with our own lenses of the world; we meet people, work with people and even socially interest with them, yet, we may not truly know the impact we have on them. 

Let’s bring this to life, you may be having lunch as a team and, in your mind, you have already created perceptions about what a person eats, the type of family they come from or even their socio-economic status. We may make passing comments, judgements or what we perceive as being harmless, yet for another group, they may be offended or resent you. 

By making these judgements, we are failing to see the blind spots we have towards different groups and this can alienate others or even cause underlying challenges in the team. 

Check you Privilege

Privilege is when one group has the perception of greater influence, power and say in a situation and in turn, their behaviours and actions can bring the less dominant groups down. 

This can be something along the lines of, a certain group of people tend to do all the talking because management perpetuate those behaviours which can result in alienating other groups. 

In order to check your privilege, an exercise can be undertaken whereby an individual can ask themselves some questions:

  • Who does all the talking in meetings?
  • Who is given favourable treatment by management?
  • When other groups speak up, are they dismissed and by who?
  • Who articulates the ideas of others for them?
  • Who takes other people’s ideas as their own?
  • Who assumes that their opinion always counts? 

What can be done?

This is a very deep and involved topic which one article can’t do it justice, the simple steps we can all start to take include:

  1. Within organisation, leaders and managers take proactive action to involve minority groups by giving them the platform so that they can share ideas, express opinions and be listened to when making decisions on work-related matters. 
  2. Publicly acknowledge the contribution of minority groups on what they have achieved, their accomplishments so that managers and leaders are showing that the contribution of the minority members are just as important as the dominant groups. 
  3. Challenge our own stereotypes and judgements and ask ourselves why we are making decisions or acting the way we are. 
  4. When it comes to hiring or promoting, use an approach which is objective which uses multiple factors to drive the outcome of the process. This focuses on the structures being in place within organisations such as processes and policies.  
  5. Within organisations, make every person accountable for their decisions to hire or promote. Rather than placing hiring decisions in the hands of one person, broaden this out to include multiple people who are willing to share views and challenge decisions being made. 

As the topic of Diversity & Inclusion continues to get focus and attention, it is the united and combined efforts of individuals, communities, organisations and societies to drive the change. When people start to challenge decisions, integration strategies to comments made during social gatherings, the awareness starts to take place. 

As part of our focus on Diversity & Inclusion, we will be sharing further insights and experiences on this topic. 

Monica is the Co-Founder and COO of Reach Outstanding. She has had a corporate career over 20 years across the UK and UAE. She believes in the power of human potential and that with the right support, experiences and mindset, people can achieve all they desire. She is the creator behind the accredited training programs offered by Reach Outstanding and a Business & Leadership Coach. 
Want to learn about what Monica does or simply catch up for chat? Reach out to her today at monica@reachoutstanding.com