Why Unconscious Bias is Good for You
Unconscious Bias (UB) is a term that’s everywhere these days. From workshops on diversity, to articles on inclusion, we talk about the harmful impacts of unconscious bias frequently. As companies are rallying around inclusion and thinking about their diversity strategies, UB is usually at the top of the list in terms of educating people around its damaging effects. Additionally, through my workshops and talks about bias, I’ve come to learn that most people hold negative associations with this phrase. Yet, UB isn’t necessarily bad and it definitely isn’t about being a bad person if you have biases. Whether you like it or not, every single person on this planet has them.
As human beings, we are hard-wired to have biases. Going back to the beginning of civilization, biases were ingrained as a way for humans to survive being eaten by a lion (or a similarly frightening creature) and to help us evolve as a species. If we were conscious of every single act, thought and decision in our lives, we wouldn’t be able to get very far each day. Also, research shows us that our brain takes in 11 million bits of information each second and we are aware (conscious) of only 40 bits of that! That’s astounding! As you can imagine, unconscious bias plays a large role in helping us sort through the world in a manageable way.
Now, let’s fast forward to the present. No one can argue how fast life has become! This 24-hour pace of our lives requires that we make decisions and go through our day making some or many choices unconsciously. Bias helps us in that we don’t take up precious brain space and energy on low level decision-making moment to moment, day to day. The important distinction however, is that biases can do damage when it comes to people decisions. This bears repeating…when it comes to people decisions, our unconscious biases can be harmful. Who we decide to bring into our personal and professional circles, who we decide to collaborate with at work, who we decide to include in the important meeting or big project at work…these are the examples of instances in which we need to be mindful of how we are making decisions. It is in those crucial moments that we need to challenge our unconscious biases in order to change and impact the landscape of inclusion.
So how do we become more mindful of our biases and take action? Here are three ways.
- Start with You. In order to combat UB and increase inclusion and diversity in the workplace and beyond, the first step is to become aware of the biases you hold. Challenge yourself by reflecting on your “inner circle” of friends and family. Who do you decide to include or not and why? Then expand to other reflection points in terms of how you make people decisions.
- Challenge Yourself. Once you become aware of your biases, actively challenge yourself by countering the line of thinking. Also, start to expand your social and professional circles by getting to know someone you don’t normally interact with.
- Speak Up by Questioning Assumptions. As you become more in tune with your biases, you’ll also start to recognize them with others whom you interact with as well. Speak up against them – stay curious and ask “why” when someone says a biased statement. Question assumptions that people make and engage in courageous dialogue by starting with the people you trust and expand on that.
What are other ways in which we can be actively anti-biased? I would love to hear your thoughts!