Unconscious Bias

In a bid for self improvement, over the past few weeks I have attended a number of lectures and presentations around the broad subject of leadership and management.

Talks such as these tend to be given by successful business people or academics. Generally these people have a living to make and, often, a book to sell, so they package the subject up in different ways to provide useful models or systems that you can take away and apply in your own work life to make you more successful or, perhaps, just a better person.

In most cases what you get is really just an application of the bleeding obvious.

That doesn’t mean that it is not useful: as is often the case, the bleeding obvious isn’t obvious until someone says it. The problem is, five minutes after returning to your office, faced by your bulging e-mail in-box and other demands of work, you forget it all again.

Oh well, it keeps the speakers in business I suppose.

The talk that most interested me from this recent bunch was one on unconscious bias by business psychologist Binna Kandola (who was once apparently introduced to his audience as Pina Colada!). He is interested in bias and ways to reduce it, to enable more fair and diverse organisations.

His talk was based on his own research and he came up with a wealth of interesting facts about bias and thoughts on how to address it; here are just of few of my favourite.

  1. We are all biased: accept it. This surprised me slightly coming from someone trying to reduce bias, but by recognise and accepting that we are biased means we can do something about it.
  2. We all notice certain things immediately and subconsciously about people we meet whether we like it or not. The main things are colour, gender, age and any obvious disability. Noticing these things does not make you a bad person.
  3. People will often deny knowledge of stereotypes about certain groups, especially in a business context. This is stupid: knowledge of a stereotype doesn’t mean acceptance of it. By acknowledging the stereotype you can question it.
  4. Those who most strenuously deny that they are biased or stringently suppress stereotypes are often the most likely to show bias.
  5. Human beings need to form groups and have in-groups and out-groups. This ranges from the obvious groups of race, nationality and religion down to which football club you support or musical preferences. Define your in-group and be aware of it, but be prepared to accept thoughts and ideas from other groups.

Not rocket science perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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One Response to Unconscious Bias

  1. Pingback: Choose Your Tribe | Darrel Kirby's Blog

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