As a child, teen, young adult and throughout the rest of your life, you form judgments, opinions, stereotypes, and assessments in every type of interaction you have with people and in all situations. This bias is not planned, controlled or focused; rather it is triggered by the brain’s ability to quickly make a judgment based on what experiences we have had, our past interactions and even our cultural experiences and environment.
In the workplace or outside the workplace, this implicit or unconscious bias creates a pre-conceived notion about people of different genders, ages, disabilities, cultures, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and nationality. It is also possible to have an unconscious bias about people’s weight, specific aspects of their appearance, or even implicit bias about their accent or patterns of speech.
These biases are based on the stereotypes we have developed, and they influence our thoughts about other people that can impact our ability to treat people fairly and equally. Keep in mind, all unconscious bias is not part of conscious thought, but there can be conscious biases, which occurs when a person understands they are stereotyping and judging and accepts that explicit bias as true and accurate.
Why Did I Just Think That?
There are courses, workshops, and trainings that teach people about unconscious bias, and they can be a very effective starting point. However, as these thoughts are hidden from our conscious thinking, it can be very difficult to sit in a training and experience our own unconscious bias.
To actually identify the biases you have, and everyone has them, it is important to be mindful and reflective on what we are assuming or judging about others. If you have a thought about someone you do not know, stop and reflect on that thought. Ask yourself:
- What knowledge am I basing this thought or judgment on?
- What assumptions am I making about this person, event or situation?
- Am I treating this person different than others, and if so, why is this occurring?
- Why do I believe this to be true about this person?
- Is this a FEELING I have or is it a FACT, and where did I obtain this information?
Talking to others about unconscious biases and being open to learning about how others see your interactions can be very helpful. A safe, supportive environment in the workplace that fosters these types of conversations and trainings across the workplace can be critical to learning how to become aware of unconscious biases, as well as how everyone can assist each other in this developing awareness.
Another key factor in openly addressing unconscious bias in the workplace is to listen if others choose to tell their story about their experiences. By developing positive communication with a wide and diverse group of coworkers, it is more likely that each person will become more aware of how their implicit biases are not accurate with regards to their current experiences.