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Confronting Bias

Are you biased?

Confronting Bias

Of course, the answer is yes.

No one is bias-free.

Bias exists in everyone; even the most multicultural, tolerant, diversity-focused person has a bias. At a minimum, they have a bias against those who are not multicultural, tolerant, or diverse.

Any conversation about biases requires starting at a place of shared values, and understand that bias is a human condition and not a character flaw.

Biases at Work

As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we must manage the biases in our workplace.

Workplace bias takes many forms, but the result is always the same: parts of the workforce are unfairly excluded from experiences and opportunities for which they are qualified.

The most common type of bias in the workplace is implicit or unconscious bias. It operates at a level below the more obvious, conscious prejudices, and affects our decisions in a much more subtle way.

Confronting this type of bias requires a careful approach because most people are not aware of it. Recognizing that the bias exists is the key to reducing its influence.

How Bias Impacts the Workplace

Unconscious bias brings irrelevant factors into our decision-making process. Age, ethnicity, gender, weight, and even hair color can play a role in personal assessments of candidates and employees.  These biases, unfortunately, can influence the decision to hire, fire, and promote in the workplace.

While these influences may be unintentional, it does not change the fact that they are fundamentally unfair

What is Unconscious Bias?

You can think of unconscious bias as the cognitive equivalent of muscle memory, coming into play when we are faced with gaps in our own personal experience. Due to the human brain’s tendency to create shortcuts, everyone has unconscious biases.

The human mind is fantastic at creating connections and grouping things together for easy access. When faced with unfamiliar or infrequent circumstances, it disproportionately pulls from widely applicable (and misinformed) associations, like stereotypes. Combined with its preference for what is familiar, we make prejudiced decisions while still consciously believing that prejudice is wrong.

How to Manage Unconscious Bias in Your Workplace

  1. Set expectations and gather feedback. – The first step is your internal PR campaign. As with any far-reaching initiative, it is important that everyone knows it is a priority. Set the expectation that you are making bias mitigation a priority with a company-wide announcement.
  2. Encourage elective participation. – This is where most efforts to curb bias go wrong. Mandatory bias and diversity training rarely work. Voluntary programs work because participants see themselves as “pro-diversity.” They create a virtuous cycle because the way we think about ourselves feeds directly into the way we act.
  3. Build bias awareness. – The goal of bias awareness is to make the decision-making process more mindful. If employees keep their implicit biases in mind when evaluating performance, making a hire, or nominating a team member for promotion, they are less likely to lean on mental shortcuts.
  4. Reduce opportunities for bias through organizational structure. – Certain business processes such as self-evaluations, mentorships, inter-group contacts, and recruiting are particularly prone to bias. Others help remedy it. Focusing on procedures that reduce the influence of bias helps address it at a structural level.
  5. Measure and experiment. – As with any initiative, setting measurable goals is important. Setting targets for bias understanding and awareness (as measured by follow-up surveys) is a much better starting point.

The Bible

As we see in the Bible, bias is a weapon of choice for Satan. In his effort to cause division, bias is one of his most devastating weapons. He started by dividing God and his creation through sin introduced in Genesis 5: 1-5.

As Proverbs 28:21 says.

Showing partiality is never good,
yet some will do wrong for a mere piece of bread.

Bias is the result of mistaken identity.  We are all made in the image of God.  Genesis 1:27 says.

So God created human beings[a] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

As children of God, created in His image, we are commanded to love each other, treat each other with full respect, and show no partiality of one to another.  That is the attitude we need to take in our workplace to combat bias preferences.