We all have biases—it's tied to the way our brains work. But, what are yours? How do the implicit associations you make influence your work, team, and organization? Once you know what they are, what can you do about them?
- We all have bias. In fact, if your brain is functioning as it should it makes quick categorizations all the time. Close your eyes. I'm going to call out a word. Note the first image that comes to your mind when I do. Nurse. Custodian. Executive. Criminal. Teacher. Note the images that immediately came to mind for each occupation. Maybe they were specific people you know or know of.
Note the gender, race and any other descriptions that immediately came to mind for each profession. If you were to compare notes with colleagues you'd notice that each of you visualize each occupation slightly differently. The first step in addressing unconscious bias is to acknowledge yours. An amazing resource to help you with this is the Implicit Associations test. There are about a dozen different tests you can take to identify some of your own unconscious biases. In addition to this resource you can start to pay attention to your initial thoughts at different times throughout the day when you hear things.
If someone is telling you about a doctor, for example, do you assume the physician's gender? If so, note it. It's well established that everyone has unconscious bias. And research has shown that when some people hear that they think it takes them off the hook or that they don't have any control over their bias. Luckily, this couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, we all have it. But, we can also take intentional steps to undo it when it comes to organizational decisions that can negatively impact our colleagues.
If acknowledging the bias is step one step two is to look for it as it comes up in work contexts. For example. When Mary, a single mother, asks for flex time next week before responding ask yourself would I respond differently if it were someone else on the team? Would I view this request any differently if it were made by a male? Pay attention to how you subtly evaluate the people on your team. In a heated discussion Cecilia is making an enthusiastic pitch for a new product and raises her voice and even claps her hands to emphasize a point.
Is that too emotional? Overly dramatic? Well, ask yourself, if Edward did the exact same thing would you see it as passionate or enthusiastic? When you walk into the restricted area of the office and see someone you don't recognize is your first thought to stop and question them? Before you do, ask yourself if they were a different race, would you do the same? These moments, literally seconds when our implicit associations lead us to act or say things to one group that we might not say to another are the times we need to pay the most attention.
Once you've acknowledged your potential biases and started to pay attention to them you can begin step three, which is to change your behavior. Rather than following the knee-jerk or gut response your unconscious bias triggers respond or act as you would if it didn't exist. This means you offer the flex time to Mary without hesitation. Don't make a big deal of Cecilia's passionate response. And don't automatically confront or call security on the people who don't look like you.
Each time you catch your unconscious bias and adjust your behavior you're literally rewiring your brain to respond differently. Over time you'll notice you need to do this less and less.
- Creating a shared understanding of why inclusion matters
- Establishing trust
- Using inclusive language
- Providing feedback in diverse teams
- Discovering implicit associations
- Delegating work and opportunities equitably
- How unconscious bias creeps into the hiring process