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Sep 28, 201712:37 PMMosaic Marketplace

with Deborah Biddle — A blog for diverse business enterprises in and around Madison.

Defeating unconscious bias

(page 1 of 2)

You can find it in every work environment, but most of us don’t see it. It interferes with good management decision-making, affecting everything from hiring, promotions, layoffs, and teambuilding to advertising, marketing, product development, and product placement. It impacts our thought processes and can cloud our judgment.

“According to Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, we are faced ­­with approximately 11 million pieces of information at any given moment. However, our brains are only able process about 40 of those bits of information at one time. So, the brain generates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions. Most often, we don’t even recognize it’s happening.” This unconscious bias results in our making decisions based on what we expect, especially when it comes to “people” decisions like hiring the best person for the job.

“Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests,” writes Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banaji in Harvard Business Review. “But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.” The result is our multiple unconscious biases serve as boundaries, restricting and confining decision-making capabilities.

Consider those from whom we seek advice and those we trust most. Who are they? For most of us, if we take inventory, we will uncover that our closest advisors and most trusted colleagues are the least diverse. They more often than not think like we do, are the same ethnicity, are of the same or similar culture, have similar upbringing, education, and work experience, are in the same age category, and hold similar beliefs.

Most of us have a bias toward sameness. If we most often make decisions influenced by our most trusted similarly thinking advisors, what is the likelihood that we capture the cultural, cognitive, or experiential diversity that research has proven benefits businesses in terms of innovation, productivity, and profitability? If we continue thinking and acting along similar lines and only seek perspectives and enact ideas, initiatives, and policies of those who hold the same perspectives we hold, we can’t be surprised when we aren’t making progress in hiring or promoting diversity, or developing new products, creating new processes, creating inclusive work environments, and reaching a broader client base. Of course, we value and continue to make decisions with the aid of our trusted colleagues. The challenge is to broaden our circle and build trust among those who have varying ideas, perspectives, and cultures.

Many times, as research has noted, bias is the main culprit behind decision-making. Whether biases are based on age, race, marital status, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, culture, or other factors, our biases impact our worldview and how we understand, respond, and react to every experience. What can we do to defeat the unconscious bias that influences how we develop, market, and disseminate products and services, and who we hire, fire, promote, and value as high potential in our organizations? Here are seven strategies every person can apply right now.

Check your initial thoughts

Your first impressions may be clues to any biases you have. Ask yourself, “Would I feel the same way, if this person were part of a different group?” Pause long enough to give yourself time to process what you are doing and how biases might be affecting your decision.

Be logical

Utilize the power of logic. Process how many people you actually know that conform to your actual bias. You will likely find that the number of people that conform to your bias that you personally know is quite few. Avoid allowing urgency or professional pressures to cause you to override logic and default to bias.


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