• Justin Hein

Unconscious Bias

Learn more about unconscious bias and the role it plays in employment decision making.

Everyone deserves fair and respectful treatment from others. This is especially the case in the context of employment, where objective and subjective review of performance impacts relationships, advancement, opportunities for growth, promotions, bonuses, and salary/wage increases. However, objective and subjective components also go into fielding complaints, interviewing witnesses, making credibility determinations, and, ultimately, determining what severity of corrective action or discipline is appropriate.

Objective and subjective assessments happen all of the time--and they happen quickly. Modern neuroscience describes how our brain unconsciously processes 11 million bits of information every second of every day, with only 40 bits used by the conscious mind. Thus, much of our assessment is either based upon or viewed through a lens clouded by our innate biases.

These innate biases are universal: it’s important to realize that we all hold deep-rooted values and beliefs learned from an early age through our upbringing, cultural environment, personal experience, and social class. But these innate biases can easily cross-into discriminatory and prejudicial behaviors when they impact one's ability to think rationally or ethically when engaged in objective or subjective decision-making.

Illegal Bias

Illegal bias is displaying an unfair preference for or against a thing, place, person, or group based on characteristics such as race, religion, age, weight, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical appearance, such as clothing, accents, and personal habits.

Studies show we automatically categorize people for easy identification, and are attracted to those who share our values and beliefs. This can lead to a prejudiced mentality that negatively affects the depth of experience and creativity within the workplace. There are two types of illegal bias: conscious bias and unconscious bias.

Conscious bias is largely being aware of your preference for one thing over another. Individuals are now encouraged to analyze their decision-making processes whenever they detect a personal bias arising within themselves. Oftentimes when recognized, it can result in an individual correcting the bias or removing themselves from impacted decision-making due to the biases.

Unconscious or hidden bias is actively engaging in your preferences without realizing it. This is very difficult to identify. Moreover, it arises when a decision is being made when the decision-maker is not giving the impacted decision the attention, time, and energy needed. This case arise when the decision-maker is distracted, busy, anxious, stressed, or under time pressure.

We are all biased to some degree, but isolating and excluding others’ negatively affects a productive, inspiring, and creative working environment.

Confronting Unconscious Bias

We all have our part to play in acknowledging our unconscious biases and being fairer and more equitable in our dealings with others.

Start by being attentive to your “first impressions” when you interact with others. Notice how these feelings and thoughts reflect your biases, and not necessarily the quantitative and qualitative information about the person in front of you. Always try to be aware of your initial preferences and compare them to what’s occurring around you. You will likely find that you are isolating yourself and your team from a wider range of experience and knowledge due to unconscious biases.

As you interact with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers in your everyday activities, try becoming aware of why you’re making one decision over another. What is the reasoning behind the myriad of choices that you make every day? You may be surprised to find that unconscious bias have a major role to play--whether you want it to or not.

Next, begin challenging your biases. They may be based on a moment in your life where they were appropriate. But now and in the context of you as a professional, these biases will undoubtedly limit your interaction with others in a negative, if not harmful, way. Be prepared to change your responses when faced with conflicting information.

More than anything, try to counter your biases by honestly communicating with those around you. Talk to your loved ones and closest friends. Having healthy discussions regarding biases can help lend perspective on their own as well as your own biases. By working with you closest friends and loved ones, you can get a better grip of identifying your unconscious biases and identify ways to

End Goal - More Acceptance, Choice, Openness

Ultimately, the goal of the exercise is awareness. With more awareness, you can bring a fresh and more creative openness into your professional life. You may even spot things that can be improved upon through interacting with people outside your “clique,” or asking for more input from your team members and others that may feel slightly left out.

Ultimately, these other individuals will appreciate the new opportunities you are now providing, which may help your team grow closer.

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