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If You Think You Haven’t Got the Bias, Think Again

What is Unconscious Bias?

In our day-to-day interactions, both conscious and unconscious biases shape the way we perceive the world. Addressing these biases is crucial; failing to do so can restrict our ability to engage meaningfully, evolve, and connect with a diverse range of individuals. When unchecked, biases can trap us in echo chambers populated by those who share similar viewpoints and life experiences.

Unconscious bias occurs when our brains rapidly assess and interpret incoming information, adding layers of subjective meaning without our awareness. This process is a natural and involuntary human function, rooted in our evolutionary need to quickly identify threats and ensure survival. For instance, the quick judgments that enabled our ancestors to evade predators are less beneficial and often problematic in modern workplaces.

The Impact of Unconscious Bias

These biases can inadvertently influence our decisions and interactions. Renowned social cognition expert Gordon Moskowitz’s research highlights that our brains develop these biases subconsciously, often aligning with our unexamined goals. This means that even without conscious awareness, biases towards race, gender, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other personal attributes can deeply affect our behaviour and decisions.

In the workplace, these biases can manifest as harmful judgments or exclusionary practices, affecting everything from hiring decisions to daily interpersonal relations. Recognising and understanding the origins of our biases and the narratives we construct about others is our responsibility.

Self-Reflection: The Key to Addressing Bias

How do you react to people who differ from you? If you believe you are unbiased, it might be time to introspect more critically. Despite societal advances, our brains often harbour implicit biases that lag behind current norms and values. To begin addressing these biases:

1. Identify Different Types of Bias:
Educate yourself about various biases and how they might appear in your thoughts and actions.
2. Observe Your Decisions: Reflect on who you interact with and the decisions you make. For instance, consider whether there is a pattern in the types of job resumes you prioritise.
3. Maintain Awareness: Keep track of your biases and your efforts to mitigate them. This can be challenging but is essential for personal growth and creating a more inclusive environment.

From Unconscious Bias to Deliberate Discrimination

It’s crucial to differentiate between unconscious bias and explicit bias. Explicit biases are conscious and deliberate preferences or aversions towards certain individuals or groups. These biases are openly acknowledged by the individual and can lead to intentional discrimination.

In contrast, unconscious biases are subtler and often exist even in those committed to equality, making them harder to detect and address. Recognising this distinction helps in understanding the breadth of impact biases can have and the different approaches required to tackle each.

Recognising Bias in Action

In professional settings, biases might appear through comments or behaviours that seem benign but are rooted in prejudiced views. Phrases like “You won’t fit into our organisation,” or assumptions such as “You are just like the person I went to university with,” are indicative of underlying biases. These not only reinforce stereotypes but also perpetuate a culture that may exclude valuable perspectives and individuals.

Unconscious bias in the workplace is an evolutionarily ancient brain function that today poses significant challenges in diverse and inclusive workplace environments. By actively engaging in self-reflection and educating ourselves, we can uncover these hidden biases and work towards more equitable and effective professional interactions. For further guidance on understanding and addressing unconscious biases, educational resources and training can be invaluable. Learn more here: https://diversiti.uk/courses/unconscious-bias/

Through continual effort and awareness, we can bridge the gap between our evolutionary instincts and the demands of modern society, fostering a workplace that values and benefits from true diversity.