Exploring Bias

“Who me? I don’t have a biased bone in my body.” Often the level of discomfort of understanding and owning our biases stems from the shortsighted belief that the issue of bias is simply about good and bad people.

Simply put, we all have biases and the issue is not the thought or bias, the issue is if we act on the bias to exclude or discriminate against others different from us.

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. (Kirwan Institute, Ohio State University).

In the article entitled, “The Real Effects of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace,” (https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/~/media/Files/documents/executive-development/unc-white-paper-the-real-effects-of-unconscious-bias-in-the-workplace-Final) author Horace McCormick identifies several of the known unconscious (implicit) biases that directly impact the workplace. These bias definition include:

  • Affinity Bias the tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.
  • Halo Effect the tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.
  • Perception Bias the tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that make it impossible to make an objective judgement about members of those groups.
  • Confirmation Bias the tendency for people to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and assumptions.

These biases can influence decisions at all levels of the organization and help to support an organizational culture that becomes supportive to some while excluding others. Interestingly if you are in the organization and are a member of an underrepresented or excluded group - across race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or other differences - these so-called unconscious (implicit) biases are often quite conscious and visible.

Here are a few suggestions that individuals or organizations that want to address unconscious (implicit) biases can do:

  • Unconscious bias does not in and of itself make us bad people.
  • Be aware that we all have unconscious bias. These biases can be addressed through intentionally making them visible when they appear, not acting on those biases or replacing the biases with new or alternative information.
  • Be aware of the strong connections between unconscious bias, prejudice and discrimination.
  • Be aware of the role that media plays in directly or indirectly perpetuating bias about differences. Even if we don’t agree with these portrayals, we are impacted by them.
  • Many of our unconscious biases are formed from no, limited or negative experiences with people who are different from us. Build authentic and connected relationships with individuals who are different from you. Building and nurturing these relationships can help to build a reservoir of hopefully new and positive information about these individuals or groups that can replace negative or harmful information.
  • When a bias appears within us, make it conscious to yourself and question whether this bias is something that will inform your actions in the situation or if the bias is something that is contrary to who you are and how you want to interact with that individual or group.
  • Create intentional organizational structures and policies that account for and address biases that may occur or be present in the existing organizational culture.
  • Slow down processes and invite the opportunity to discuss biases that may be present within the organization and its employees and take corrective action.
  • If we work for organizations that support and nurture an organizational culture where fairness and equity is directly or indirectly linked to the organizational goals, when biases appear, it can create the right conditions for a “moment of disconnect” or dissonance which can trigger your bias control.  


Adapted from, The Unconscious Bias Fact Sheet” (Cornish and Jones) https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/physics/people/equality/Documents/ub-fact-sheet



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