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December 8, 2023 4 Min Read

Hidden Forces Unveiled: Overcoming Unconscious Bias for Inclusivity and Growth

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Overcoming Unconscious Bias

We tend to pride ourselves on being logical, rational thinkers, but unconscious biases frequently sway our decisions and actions. 

How many times do you find yourself reacting to situations emotionally? Does someone say something that strikes a nerve, and you end up taking the frustration out on everyone for the rest of the day?

Maybe you didn’t like how you saw yourself in the mirror this morning, and it put a downer on every interaction you had as you tried to mask your lack of confidence.

These are all subtle but impactful ways we act emotionally, and these invisible forces tend to have more of an effect on our lives than we may give credit for.

These hidden forces deeply and significantly impact our perceptions, interactions, and decision-making in personal and professional settings. 

Let’s dive into the concept of unconscious bias and its origins and discuss practical tips for identifying and mitigating these biases to cultivate a more inclusive, fair world.

 

Understanding Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias represents automatic, often unintentional judgments or assumptions we make about people or situations based on past experiences, cultural norms, and personal beliefs.

It’s your emotional response when, maybe, a member of the opposite sex says something you don’t like or an employee from another culture walks into the office. Perhaps it’s a same-sex couple kissing or a gender-fluid individual saying hello.

We all automatically make judgments in situations like this. We’re conditioned to do so, either positively, negatively, or a mix of both.

However, these biases can subtly influence our behavior and decision-making. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people make decisions based on unconscious biases in just milliseconds.

Common types of unconscious biases include:

  1. Confirmation bias: Favoring information that confirms our preexisting beliefs or expectations. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, people are twice as likely to seek information that supports their existing beliefs.
  2. Halo effect: Believing someone with one positive quality has other unrelated positive qualities. A study by the Association for Psychological Science found that attractiveness can lead to the halo effect, with attractive individuals being perceived as more competent, intelligent, and trustworthy.
  3. Groupthink: Conforming to group opinions or attitudes, even if irrational or harmful. This phenomenon was demonstrated by psychologist Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments in the 1950s.
  4. In-group bias: Preferring individuals from our social, cultural, or professional groups over those from different groups. A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that people are more likely to trust and cooperate with in-group members.

 

The Roots of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious biases stem from our brains, evolving due to biological and environmental factors. 

At the end of the day, it’s nothing to fear because it’s an entirely natural way to be.

Our ancestors relied on instincts and quick judgments for survival, quickly categorizing people and situations as safe or dangerous. Neuroscientists have found that the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with emotion and memory, plays a significant role in unconscious bias.

However, our biases are not always accurate, and while they have their place (you may have a bias that protects you from walking down dark alleyways at night), they may sometimes cause us problems if we don’t keep them in check and have them work for us, rather than being the ones in control.

Our upbringing and social environment shape our unconscious biases, exposing us to cultural norms, beliefs, and stereotypes that influence our perceptions. 

For example, a study in the journal Child Development found that children as young as two years old can exhibit racial biases influenced by their environment. 

If you see a parent displaying racial remarks from a young age, then you’re far more likely to have racist tendencies yourself.

Related reading: Be the Change: How to Become an Effective Ally in the Workplace

Addressing Unconscious Bias

To promote inclusivity, equity, and fairness, it’s crucial to recognize and tackle our unconscious biases. Some practical steps include:

  1. Enhance self-awareness: Acknowledge biases and identify patterns in thoughts and behaviors. Oftentimes during her sessions, Coach Finbarr Buckley highlights the importance of frequently evaluating our decisions and actions. By consistently checking in with ourselves, we ensure that our actions are always aligned with our intentions for inclusivity and growth.
  2. Embrace diverse perspectives: Interact with individuals from different backgrounds to challenge your beliefs and assumptions. Exposure to diversity can help reduce unconscious bias, as shown in a study by the American Psychological Association.
  3. Educate yourself: Learn about various biases and their manifestations in different contexts. Read books, and articles, and attend workshops or seminars on unconscious bias.
  4. Practice empathy: Understand others’ experiences and feelings to foster compassion. Research shows that empathy can help reduce prejudice and promote understanding.
  5. Implement bias-minimizing strategies: Use objective criteria in decision-making processes. For example, implementing blind recruitment processes can help reduce gender and racial biases in hiring.

 

Fostering Inclusivity

We can create a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse environment by addressing unconscious biases. Some ways to encourage inclusivity and challenge biases include:

  1. Encourage open dialogue: Foster respectful conversations about biases, stereotypes, and discrimination. This creates a culture of understanding and mutual respect.
  2. Challenge stereotypes: Be mindful of language and assumptions based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, or other factors. Actively work to dismantle stereotypes in your thinking and communication.
  3. Celebrate diversity: Embrace and appreciate diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Recognize the value that diversity brings and learn from others’ unique qualities. A key recommendation from Coach Buckley is to actively learn about and immerse oneself in different cultures. This genuine effort to understand others can significantly reduce biases and lead to more inclusive interactions.
  4. Be an ally: Stand against discrimination and bias when you witness it and support marginalized or oppressed individuals. Use your privilege and influence to create a more just and inclusive world.
  5. Establish inclusive policies: In professional settings, develop and enforce policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. This can include diversity training, mentorship programs, and flexible work arrangements to accommodate different needs.

 

Conclusion

Unconscious biases are ingrained within our minds, shaped by a mix of evolutionary and cultural factors. While we may not completely eliminate these hidden forces, we can take steps to recognize, understand, and manage them.

By increasing our self-awareness, exposing ourselves to diverse perspectives, and implementing strategies to minimize bias, we can create a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse world for everyone.

 

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