Step on the clutch

By Howard Ross via   Article

How unconscious bias effects everything you do

Our understanding of unconscious bias has exploded in the past two decades. Over 1,000 studies in the past 10 years alone have conclusively shown that if you’re human, you have bias, and that it impacts almost every variation of human identity: Race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, religion, accent, height, hand dominance, etc.The question is not “do we have bias?” but rather “which are ours?”

But what can we do about it? The impact on work life is dramatic. How can we hire, retain, and develop the best people and make the best decisions in running our organizations if we are not even aware of the forces that dominate the choices we make? It is unlikely that we can eliminate our biases, because they are so natural to the way we are learning that the human mind functions. However, we are learning that there are things that we can do to mitigate the impact of biases on our organizational decision-making.

Initially people within the organization must become aware of the impact of unconscious bias on their decision-making through various forms of education. This will help them realize and accept that we all have bias, and learn to watch for it in themselves as much as possible. We might think of it as similar to what happens when we step on the clutch in a standard transmission automobile. The motor doesn’t stop running, but it stops moving the car. When we are aware of our biases and watch out for them, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.

Secondly, we have to begin to develop approaches that help us make decisions more consciously. These can occur in three areas: priming; reorganized structures and systems; and new forms of accountability.

Priming is an imbedded memory effect that gets created when one activity subtly and often unconsciously impacts subsequent behaviors. By consciously priming people to pay attention to potential areas of bias, we have found that they can be encouraged to be more conscious of their decision-making processes. For example, before reviewing resumes, managers can be asked to respond to a series of questions like:

  • ‘Does this person’s resume remind you in any way about yourself?’
  • ‘Does it remind you of somebody you know? Is that positive or negative?’
  • ‘Are there things about the resume that particularly impact you? Are they really relevant to the job?’
  • ‘What assessments have you made already about the person? Are they grounded in solid information or simply your interpretations?'”



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