Bust Bias. Commit to One Thing.
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
"The shame is not in the bias, it’s an evolutionary, involuntary shortcut in the brain, the shame comes in what we choose to do (or don’t do) to mitigate the effects on those impacted by our compromised decisions."
In the era of globalized, virtual workspaces, it’s widely acknowledged that organizations that value and leverage individual and group differences foster inclusivity, heighten employee engagement, and contribute to the development of high-performing teams. But can you truly leverage differences if you are blind to the perspectives of your co-workers and unaware that your perceptions are not reality?
It’s a fact...unconscious bias clouds our decisions, interactions, and perceptions of reality. It is in play in every aspect of the modern workplace — in recruitment, retention, performance management, promotion, client relations, and the allocation of work assignments. Awareness and acceptance of the fact that we all have biases is the first step in unbiasing. The shame is not in the bias, it’s an evolutionary, involuntary shortcut in the brain, the shame comes in what we choose to do (or don’t do) to mitigate the effects on those impacted by our compromised decisions. Acceptance doesn’t mean we’re absolved from taking action, it means we must evaluate, understand, and familiarize ourselves with our biases and commit to unbiasing.
There are over 150 types of common biases that quietly plague our workplace interactions. Become more self-aware and make better-informed decisions. Here are just a few:
Confirmation bias occurs when we search for information to support our own ideas, beliefs, and opinions, rather than looking for alternate perspectives. This can lead to selective observation, meaning we overlook and disregard other information and instead focus on things that fit our viewpoint.
Confirmation bias often happens when we want certain ideas to be true. This leads us to stop gathering information when evidence confirms our own viewpoints, which can lead to prejudices that are not based on reason or factual knowledge. Individuals then pick out the bits of information that confirm their prejudices.
Similarity bias refers to our tendency to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences, and backgrounds. These biases cause us to disproportionately favor individuals that are similar to us. The similarities could be tied to anything—ethnicity, gender, nationality, career history, educational background, and more.
Distance bias is when we favor people who are closer to us in time and space. It’s not just a matter of “out of sight, out of mind,” it’s also thinking that things that are further away are unconsciously valued less, and assigned less importance. The tendency to value short-term outcomes over potentially greater long-term outcomes can lead to failures in both innovation and sustainability. Stay focused on the future, check your thinking for evidence of distance bias and prioritize future outcomes over quick and easy fixes.
The halo effect is the tendency we have to place another person on a pedestal after learning something impressive about them. This occurs when we focus on one particularly impressive feature of a person. Thereafter, we view everything about the person in a positive “halo” light, which makes us think that they are “more” perfect than they really are.
The horns effect is the tendency people have to view another person negatively after learning something unpleasant or negative about them. We focus on one particular negative feature about an individual, which clouds our view of their other qualities. It is important to remember that one mistake or flaw does not represent the person as a whole.
Left unchecked, even a tiny bit of bias can cause negative business consequences and lead to discriminatory behaviors and actions. Bias affects our decision-making processes in a number of detrimental ways:
Perception – how we see people and perceive reality
Attitude – how we react to certain people
Behaviors – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people
Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to
Listening – how much we actively listen to what certain people say
Micro-affirmations – how much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations
There are four basic methods to shift your culture and actively unbias. They are effective and can be adapted to work in any organization, in any environment:
Structure for Success
Ensure that you’re evaluating success equitably
Predetermine requirements and goals for success
Document and use consistent requirements, criteria, and procedures
Data is less prone, though not immune, to unconscious bias than our own cognition
Use data to inform decisions and reduce the influence of unconscious bias
Raise consciousness on patterns and learn new insights you might have otherwise overlooked
Evaluate Subtle Messages
Evaluate the signals you send in your body language, casual comments, and feedback
What signals is your environment sending?
From the images on your product site to individuals chosen to speak externally, you’re sending unconscious messages
Hold Everyone Accountable
Hold yourself accountable - Don’t close on the first decision that comes to your mind
Hold others accountable - Empower everyone to call out unconscious bias
Justify decisions - Tell people why you decided what you did; If you’re held accountable, you’ll be less unconsciously biased
Accepting the fact that if you have a brain you have bias is the first step to unbiasing. The second step is to take action. Commit to unbiasing by evaluating the effects of unconscious bias on others and pick one thing you can do to change and make the unconscious conscious.