Unconscious Bias

For those of you who made it past the title of this blog; but are wondering if it is just going to make you feel bad, let me make one thing clear from the outset.  Unconscious bias does not make you a bad person; all it does is prove you are human being.  The first thing we need to do is define bias.  A bias is an inflexible, positive or negative, conscious or unconscious belief about a particular category of people.  There are a couple of key points here.  Saying that women are nurturing surely wouldn’t seem like a bad thing.  Nurturing is a positive trait right?  But just because your bias is something positive doesn’t mean it isn’t a bias, and it plants the seeds to being negative about someone.  If you think women are nurturing and you come across a woman who doesn’t want to have kids, your bias can then become negative because you start questioning what is wrong with that woman.  Is she selfish or self-centered?  Her unwillingness to conform to your positive bias somehow just became negative.

The second thing we need to discuss is who pays a price for your bias.  Certainly the object of your bias potentially pays a price if you won’t give them an opportunity in your organization, but the object of your bias is not the only one who pays a price.  You, as the holder of your bias pay a price and your organization also pays a price.  You may be unwilling to take opportunities because of your bias.  You may miss the ability to find your successor that allows you to be promoted.  Your organization may end up with less engaged employees and be less innovative with lower growth prospects.

The good news is that we are not sentenced to be a lifetime slave to our biases.  We can do things to learn about our biases and then deal with them.  Project Implicit has a series of different tests you can take to learn about your biases in many different areas. We can then take action to deal with our biases.  One of the best ways is to find common ground with others.  Just like dog lovers and cat lovers can find common ground as animal lovers, you can find common ground with others.  Maybe it is that we are all part of the accounting profession or maybe it is that we want our firm or company to be successful.  The keys to finding common ground are to do it in a cooperative, unhurried fashion.  It will take personal interaction and needs to focus on shared interests, and it involves finding common goals.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  This is tough work that takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.  Remember having a bias does not make you a bad person, it’s what you do about it that matters.

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