Who Me? Biased? by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

The mind is a complex thing, and part of the complexity is in how thoughts and beliefs are formed throughout life. While most people would like to believe that they are independent thinkers and come up with beliefs based on actual experiences and interactions, this is simply not the case.

In fact, our unconscious or subconscious mind is constantly receiving information from the world around us. This includes information and experiences from childhood through to our current age. Associations, both good and bad, are formed outside of the conscious mind, and this creates a bias in how we think about others. Biases include stereotypes, but they can go beyond these beliefs.

Bias in the Workplace

While many associate unconscious bias with beliefs about ethnicity, race, or gender, there are other types of unconscious biases at work all the time. For example, a manager may assume a younger employee has less knowledge about a particular business operation than an older employee. The manager may also assume the younger employee is more capable of understanding and utilizing technology than the older employee. These are examples of ageism unconscious biases and something that is very common in the workplace.

There is a lot of research on unconscious bias in the workplace. When hiring, people often see a candidate that has similar interests, comes from the same area, or attended the same schools as a better fit for the job, even if he or she may not have the best qualifications in the shortlist of candidates.

Additionally, a manager may promote employees or hold employees back based on unconscious bias. Unless the manager is able to reflect on this and determine this underlying bias, decisions will continue to be made based on assumptions and beliefs rather than actual facts and data.

Being Honest About Bias

The first step in making any personal change is to recognize the issue exists. Everyone has unconscious bias, and accepting that fact and focusing on when it impacts our thoughts and decision-making is the first step.

When thinking negative or positive thoughts about a person that are not based on facts and direct observations, stop and ask yourself, “Why do I believe this to be true?” The same question is great when you find yourself making an assumption about anything. Assumptions are typically a manifestation of unconscious biases.

By stopping and thinking about your thinking, you can become aware of an unconscious bias. Taking the time to learn about the individual on a personal level, to get more information, and become more attuned to the way unconscious biases are creating positive or negative beliefs around people, are all effective ways to acknowledge and address unconscious bias in both personal interactions as well as in the workplace.