Unconscious biases are blind spots, shortcuts that cut through the wealth of data and stimuli we encounter that keep us from seeing all there is to see to achieve our purposes, treat people well, or have a positive impact in the community.
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The top five workplace biases are:
- Affinity: people “like me” make me feel comfortable
- Halo: general impressions and opinions affect my actions toward and assessments of others
- Perception: sensory input, what I see and hear, is what influences my assessments of others
- Confirmation: I’m prone to believe what I want to believe
- Groupthink: decision-making that blunts individual creativity and individual responsibility
How can we open our eyes?
A key is self-awareness. A recent study identified two basic patterns of inclusive leaders. Some “lead with their hearts and connect through relationships.” Their strengths are trust-building, authenticity, and emotional intelligence. Others “lead with their heads as they connect with ideas.” They tend to be adaptable, inquisitive, and open-minded. “Open heart or open mind—neither type is better than the other. But the key word is open, and that begins with self-awareness—to understand yourself before you can understand, appreciate, and connect with others.”
Self-awareness requires self-assessment. This development model can help reveal how you are doing in opening up to others who are different. Where are you?
- Hesitant: I just engage with people in my own group.
- Discomfort: I have to work with people of different backgrounds.
- Investigating: I work with different people, and I want to know more, but I haven’t done so.
- Experimenting: I go out of my way to converse and interact with people different from me.
- Enjoying: it’s normal for me to initiate conversations with people different from me.
Harvard’s IAT test is a quick way to identify your attitudes and preferences about people different from you on fifteen dimensions. You can choose which dimension(s) you want to measure (race, aspects of gender, age, disability, religion, and more). Try it: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
Understanding should lead to action. Initiate conversations with different people to express concerns about diversity and inclusion and get advice. Ask about others’ customs and traditions. Ask for help when you make a mistake. Ask a minority manager or leader to “reverse mentor” you on D&I issues. In return, mentor a minority employee to navigate the organization. Connect with an internal group working on D&I, such as an Employee Resource Group. Encourage and participate in sharing experiences in the organization. Look for your organization’s diversity goals and inclusion measurements; know who the champions are, and understand how your organization benefits from D&I.
To keep it simple, just increase contact with people who are different from you.
Resources: this Reflection is based on the work of James Pogue, a Dallas-based consultant on Unconscious Bias, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the Korn Ferry Institute’s Head and Heart: Inclusive Leaders for an Equitable Future.