I partner with a colleague on facilitating unconscious bias workshops for employers. One question we deal with upfront is, “Does unconscious bias actually exist?”
The answer is YES.
We use the definition from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University (watch now) They define implicit bias (same as unconscious bias) as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”
This means we hold unconscious biases, associations, and thoughts about:
- places, and
For example, we all have unconscious biases about the food we like and brands we purchase. When you walk down the grocery aisle, most of us don’t consciously think about what brand of ketchup to buy. We just grab the same brand we’ve used for years. That bias is buried in our unconscious mind and is easily retrieved to make a decision about purchasing ketchup. The wonder of our unconscious mind is that it saves time and helps us manage the complexities of life.
However, unconscious biases about groups of people is quite different than purchasing ketchup. We all hold positive and negative images, assessments or stereotypes of groups of people, even though we may not be aware of them. But something may trigger those unconscious biases which impacts our behavior.
Real life situations continue to happen in employment settings. Examples include, a manager assigning a technology project to a younger employee instead of an older worker triggered by an unconscious bias that millennials are more tech savvy (of course not all are). A police officer pulling over a young black male driver in a predominately white neighborhood triggered by an unconscious bias that the driver is up to some suspicious activity (the driver may live in the neighborhood). Hiring a female candidate over a male candidate for a marketing position in a senior care retirement community triggered by an unconscious bias that women are more empathetic and can relate better with potential residents (men are also empathetic and can effectively relate to potential residents). All these unconscious biases may have been formed by a previous experience from images and stories in the news media, the person’s upbringing, or perhaps influenced by conversations with peers.
The point of all this is that our unconscious biases about people, when acted upon, can create friction and barriers to working and living with each other. On the extreme side, it can result in illegal discrimination, isolation, and emotional harm to people, even death as in the case of some law enforcement situations.
To create a work environment that strives for inclusion and acceptance of people, we must do three things:
- identify our unconscious biases,
- acknowledge the biases, and
- mitigate the biases.
Otherwise, we will continue to make decisions and behave in ways that move us further away from inclusion and acceptance.
If you are concerned that unconscious biases could be interfering with your employees’ teamwork and communication, and your organization’s productivity and customer service, contact me to discuss how I can assist you.