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Diversity and Inclusion

Primer on unconscious bias

📌 We’re all biased
Yep, that’s right. We all have biases. These biases are deep-seated assumptions we make about people who are different than us without even realizing it – usually called implicit bias or unconscious bias.

It’s problematic because it colors our decision-making without our awareness.

💡 Unconscious bias ≠ conscious prejudice
Unconscious bias is distinct from conscious prejudice, which is defined as preconceived (usually negative) feelings towards people based solely on their group membership, like religion, race, ethnicity or age.

People who are consciously prejudiced deliberately discriminate against members of that group.

On the other hand, unconscious bias exists without our awareness. It’s much more common and pervasive, and is often displayed in subtle ways that make it tricky to identify – especially in ourselves! It usually runs counter to our own values.

According to June Sarpong, British TV personality and author of the book Diversify, these hidden biases are actually the most dangerous of all. They’re expressed as fear and (often) subtle exclusion of the ‘other’, whatever that ‘other’ is for you.

Our unconscious mind works off of instinct rather than analysis and makes split-second assumptions and decisions without our awareness.

These assumptions stem from our background, past experiences and cultural context. And they’re often not rational.

Cultural messages are particularly powerful and instilled early. According to psychologist Margo Monteith, by the age of 5 many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes about black people, women, and other social groups.

Worse, she says, “Children don’t have a choice about accepting or rejecting these conceptions since they’re acquired well before they have the cognitive abilities or experiences to form their own beliefs.”

“But, so what if I have bias?”

The thing is, expectations can dictate reality through a variety of psychological and social forces.

📺 Watch this (3 minutes)

Watch this fascinating video about a psychologist’s research into how expectations alone can impact performance.

The bias and associations we have in our heads translate to a “set of tiny behaviors” that help or hinder groups.

Reducing the effects of bias in the workplace can seem overwhelming.

Luckily, these simple Dos & Don’ts will tell you where to start, give you some golden nuggets to see you through and remind you of some pitfalls we can all be easily led to.

✅ Do approach work practices knowing where bias is possible.

✅ Do consider the direction of possible bias.

  • 🤔 What does the direction of bias mean?

Will an instance of bias make you more or less favorable towards an idea or person? The positive or negative emotions associated with the bias determine its direction.

✅ Do talk about bias.

✅ Do give immediate feedback to others when their bias shows.

✅ Do ask for different opinions.

✅ Do forgive yourself, reflect and move on when you realize your bias has got the better of you.

❌ Don’t expect awareness alone to solve bias problems.

❌ Don’t use bias as a stick to beat others with or to make other judgments about them.

❌ Don’t fall foul to moral licensing.

  • 🤔 What does moral licensing mean? Moral licensing is where an increased sense of security or confidence gives someone agency to do the thing they were meant to avoid. They think they are immune to making mistakes just because they had the awareness training. Case in point? Having unconscious bias training and feeling that you must, therefore, be perfectly rational… but, in practice, you are tricked by your biases more often!

❌ Don’t believe that you can debias people. It is far better to focus on catching your bias and debiasing processes.

Primer on unconscious bias

Of all the “Do” or “Don’t” tips, which will you make the commitment to keep top of mind and live and breathe by? Share which tip is the most important to you in the comments here.

We’d love to hear from you!

Fiona Young (she/her)

Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.