5 strategies to overcome unconscious bias

5 strategies to overcome unconscious bias

Last week, we began an in-depth look into unconscious bias. It’s especially important to be aware of unconscious bias because of how much it contributes to our decision-making. As a leader, you must be aware of just how much your thinking is shaped by unconscious thinking. Then, you must learn how to overcome it so that it doesn’t negatively impact your judgment, personal growth, learning, or job performance.

Today, we’re going to discuss how you can do just that.

But first, a quick recap from our last blog about how unconscious bias works and why it’s developed among us:

 

“Research suggests that we instinctively categorize people and things using easily observed criteria such as age, weight, skin color, and gender. But we also classify people according to educational level, disability, sexuality, accent, social status, and job title, automatically assigning presumed traits to anyone we subconsciously put in those groups.

The ‘advantage’ of this system is that it saves us time and effort processing information about people, allowing us to spend more of our mental resources on other tasks. The clear disadvantage is that it can lead us to make assumptions about them and take action based on those biases. This results in a tendency to rely on stereotypes, even if we don’t consciously believe in them” (Mind Tools).

 

To put it another way, when we rely on unconscious bias, we’re reinforcing certain ‘blind spots’ in our judgment. We’re looking at the world with blinders on, unable to see the fuller picture. This unfortunately can lead to discrimination.

So how do you become more aware of your own biases and shift them to avoid discriminating against those in your personal and professional life?

Here are 5 strategies you can implement today:

  • From Kelly Long at The Guardian: “Review your internal conversation. Are you basing your decisions on 30-second judgments or quantitative and qualitative information? Review every aspect of your personal story for unconscious bias. In the workplace, the first step might be to analyse who it is that you trust. Diversity consultant Scott Horton’s four-minute workshop (which you can view here) explores who we trust, why we trust them and how this might influence who we choose to promote.”
  • From Howard Ross at OSP Magazine: “Gather information about yourself. The Implicit Association Test (IAT, www.implicit.harvard.edu) can help you identify your unconscious preferences. Taking one or more of the IATs is a free, voluntary activity that you can do at home on your own computer. Keep track of your decisions and review them to see if there are any patterns that may not have been apparent to you (e.g., similarities in the persons you socialize with, people your hire or select to be on your team.) Patterns don’t automatically indicate bias. But if you see a pattern, it would be wise to examine it further.”
  • From Marshall E-Learning Consultancy: Avoid Micro-iniquities and practice micro-affirmations. “Micro-inequities are the small, sometimes barely perceptible gestures – things like eye-rolling, mispronouncing someone’s name repeatedly, not introducing a person – which can leave the ‘target’ unsure if they really are being alienated, or just being over-sensitive. Over time, if a person experiences lots of these, then it can lead to low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to low productivity and even depression. Micro-affirmations are the remedy to micro-inequities. They are small gestures of inclusion and respect that anyone can make. Using them means that you’re consciously overriding your own unconscious biases in order to become fairer, more thoughtful and more respectful in our perceptions and dealings with colleagues.”
  • From the National Associate of Corporate Directors blog: Educate Your Team. “From the top down, everyone in an organization needs to understand the myriad distinctions among people in the workplace and the mechanics of unconscious bias. Keying employees in to how people think results in more egalitarian behaviors across the organization.”
  • From Howard Ross at OSP Magazine: “Stretch Your Comfort Zone. If you discover that you view a particular group with discomfort, make a conscious effort to learn more about that group. Expose yourself to positive images and other information related to that group. Don’t be afraid to question yourself. If others question your decisions, instead of reacting defensively, try to listen to the feedback. Be open to change.

 

In order to create a fairer workplace for your team members, it’s of the utmost importance that leaders learn to recognize their biases and keep those biases from influencing important decisions. When they do, employees will thrive and flourish, making for a more robust organization.

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