We all need to be biased in some way — we need shortcuts to distill all the information around us to make quick decisions. But we need to be aware of how we do or do not actually process information. Think of an encounter with someone who is quite like you — when there are gaps in what they tell you, you fill them in with your own experience. Therefore, you continue to feel connected, or even notice there are gaps that you’re filling in with assumptions based on your own sense of similarity. This is called an affinity bias. When it is someone not like you , however, we can fill in the gaps with things that may be cautious, or possibly negative, but we don’t have an “alert” mechanism to test our automatic assumptions.
Confirmation bias: we notice, pay attention to and remember things that confirm what we already think and believe. This is a cognitive bias, especially when the material is deep seated. It can lead to serious mistakes. Related to this is the HALO effect. Someone is great in a number of areas, so we assume they are great in others.
Now… think of the reverse… negative HALO…
Attribution bias: this is when we attribute or understand our own, or someone else’s behaviors in a way that conforms to what we would like to be true. It’s how we try to find reasons for things. And we can be wrong. We easily attribute negative motivations to people who hit us the wrong way… or positive motivations to others. We need to step back and notice this tendency.
Unconscious bias: simply a situation (affinity bias is one example) where we don’t realize we are biased and even actively do not want to be Our values can even be at odds with our unconscious reflexive thoughts and actions. We have been deeply socialized to have these automatic reactions. They are like the marinade we’ve been soaking in our whole lives, so we don’t taste it. Here’s where we need help from others to increase our awareness of where our automatic judging kicks in. If not, we can put incorrect limits on people and devalue them or elevate others and see them as more competent. It takes a village and a community of enlightened people to help us.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear a CEO go on about their commitment to diversity my mind drifts. Why? We hear those kinds of words all the time, and I don’t see any change, so I tend not to believe them. Turns out, it doesn’t matter if I believe it. What does matter? Does the head of HR believe it ? If so, things can begin to happen. (See the article Walking the Talk on Diversity.)
But let’s imagine the CEO and head of HR do take diversity and inclusion seriously. Then what? It still isn’t easy — there are many overt and covert forces of resistance. Being excluded is powerful. Outrageous comments are one thing — you may remember a media storm when a cool company talked about not wanting Os & Os (Ovaries and Old People). But the worst exclusion is invisible — and therefore harder to confront. Ask people if they have biases is like asking the proverbial fish what it’s like to be wet.
To understand bias and inclusion you simply have to listen to Jennifer Brown’s webinar from July 2019. She is highly informed, energetic and whether you are a diversity or deeply involved in the field, you will learn a lot. (For example, did you know the various minorities have One Trillion dollars of buying power per year?). And she’ll talk about what really matters in trying to turn the tide? Jennifer Brown is also presenting a highly anticipated Keynote at the IOC’s Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare conference, October 19.
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