Tips for managing unconscious bias

Hands of diverse people raised

Unconscious bias has become one of the “buzz terms” of organisational life.  The good news is everyone has unconscious biases.  The bad news is the same. So what can we do about it?

If we can accept that we have these cognitive quirks, it goes a long way towards managing them well. Let’s consider bias.

Biases are non-conscious drivers — cognitive quirks — that influence how people see the world. They appear to be universal in most of humanity, perhaps hard-wired into the brain as part of our genetic or cultural heritage, and they exert their influence outside conscious awareness. You cannot go shopping, enter a conversation, or make a decision without your biases kicking in.
Halvorsen and Rock, 2015, Beyond Bias

The article cited above, Beyond Bias – identifies many sources of bias.  It also proposes that even though we would like to think we are unbiased “there is very little evidence that educating people about biases does anything to reduce their influence”.

The very terminology is the key here. Unconscious biases is when biases occur outside our conscious awareness.  We are not aware of them. What’s more you cannot consciously “watch out for biases,” because there’s nothing to see.

Halvorsen and Rock suggest tackling unconscious bias is best done collectively with processes used in organisations to mitigate their prevalence and impact. Briefly their suggestions are:

  • It seems that it is human to be biased – awareness is an important step.
  • Preparation before decision-making is important to establish good processes to mitigate the risk of bias.
  • Favour cognitive effort over intuition or gut instinct.
  • Set up processes to consider wider variety of perspectives and views.
    Read more here.

What can YOU do?

  • Be aware – awareness of the first step in change.
  • Accept your biases – acceptance is an important second step in change.
  • Choose to be proactive and change your practices (in line with the above).

What do you think?  Is it possible to mitigate against biases?

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