Uncovering bias in yourself and your organization for better results

Photo of Albert Eistein

Conflict, disputes, and miscommunications can result from both unconscious and conscious bias. We all have formed bias based on our experiences and understanding and based on our inexperience’s and misunderstanding. Unconscious bias plays a major role in our lives on how we see ourselves and others based on our cultural stereotypes and social identities. This article summarizes key points from an article from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkley taken from a book, The End of Bias, by Jessica Nordell.  This article will summarize the root of bias, the consequences of prejudice, tips for reducing personal bias, and tips for reducing organizational bias.


The root of bias


Our brains are lazy and like to keep things simple to save energy whenever possible. Our brains categorize things including our perceptions of people and absorb “cultural knowledge” based on experiences. This cultural knowledge about individuals and groups of people leads to stereotypes and biased expectations in how we work with and interact with others.

Our unconscious bias shows itself especially when we are stressed or have low energy.

When our stereotypes are confirmed, we actually feel better. Why? Because our brains like predictability. When we have a stereotype confirmed our brain is reinforced that once again, we have found what was anticipated to be true. For example, a stereotype that boys are more rambunctious than girls and how we address girls with how nice they look. Bias feels good. Hollywood knows this too, so they provide us with entertainment that reinforces stereotypes. This is good for their business model. This does not make it right. As a result, we tend to see what we want to see and do not see what we do not want to see.


The consequences of prejudice


In the article cited above the following excerpt brings this home.

Just to give a few examples: If you’re a darker shade of black, you are more likely to be arrested and convicted for a crime. If you’re a white person with a criminal record, you’re more likely to get a call back from a potential employer than if you’re a Black person, with or without a criminal record. If you’re a woman working in the tech industry, your performance review is much more likely to contain criticisms about your personality than if you’re a man, with demands to “hang back and let others shine more, or use a milder tone when speaking, or act less judgmental,” writes Nordell. These overt cases of discrimination are obviously unjust. But Nordell argues that even less obvious cases of bias can have downstream consequences.

She also shares how small but subtle actions like criticizing women slightly more than men will lead to less women moving into leadership positions even when organizations start with equal numbers of men and women being hired. The author points out that unless individuals step up in organizations to recognize their privilege and determine ways to overcome bias in systems the process will continue. With this in mind she presents ideas on how to address these concerns regarding personal bias and bias in organizations.


Tips for reducing personal bias


If you decide you no longer want to be prejudiced or that you will be color blind to your biases going forward by tying to ignore the differences, this does not work. If you say you are color blind, you simply cannot be. Your unconscious bias is still there. However, here are some tips that can help you.

Explore history

Nordell recommends that to overcome bias  it is important to expand horizons relative to history. Personally, I have recently exposed myself to some sources I want to share with you. Reviewing American history through the eyes of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) I have recently read An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and I have recently watched a series of PBS documentaries that I would like to bring to your attention.

               The Rise and Fall of Jim Crowe

               The New Jim Crowe

It is important to recognize differences of perspective and stereotypes that impact our biases. By exploring the perspectives of others it is possible to increase your compassion towards others and increase your resilience in the face of discrimination.

Reduce your own stress level

Here are two blogs on the Brain and Stress parts one and two. These two blogs offer ideas and sources that you may find helpful.

Increase you sense of humanity

Reach out to others that are of different backgrounds and find ways to interact, have fun and build community. If that is not possible explore mindfulness with the power of meditation, prayer, reflection, or yoga.  Are you someone that wants to make this world a better place? Does this have meaning for you? Consider recognizing that you as with everyone else has bias, recognize this, and try to move out of your comfort zone and fight for a more just and equitable society. This can give you a stronger sense of community.


Tips for reducing organizational bias


Are there places in your organization where employees are evaluated from a personal perspective rather than an objective perspective? Consider hiring, training, work assignments, opportunities, evaluations, promotions, and other areas.

Listen to others. Ask. Polling such as with Gallup might ask questions regarding trust, discrimination, or other related topics. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers insights that demonstrate progress but concerns still remain even after 40 years of data. Everyone has blind spots. Be open to what yours are and seek continual improvement. Consider implementing various forms of affirmative action. Nordell states,

You can take a lesson from MIT, which actively recruited more women and minorities into faculty positions, leading to greater diversity in not only its staff, but also its student body.

To overcome bias, it does not take a training course, or an event to recognize others. This type of approach may make you feel better, but it takes effort and resources to make true changes.

Old habits have to be broken and new habits have to be formed. It requires an honest assessment and to recognize both privilege and to root it out.

For example, are all new hires provided with three mentors? One for technical assistance, one for a visionary perspective, and one for how things really work in your culture. Unconsciously, this may happen with those you are more comfortable with and not have been consciously overlooked but may have been overlooked for others. This is the kind of example that needs to be provided to everyone, not just the select few. Give your organization a good hard look. Give everyone an opportunity for a better life. Check out Nordell’s well researched article and her well researched links. This may help you uncover bias in yourself and your organization for better results.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]