Unconscious Bias: Are you Aware Of It?

There are so many buzzwords flying around but have you heard of unconscious bias? It’s not a buzzword, but in today’s diverse society, it is a critical issue. Unconscious biases are our unintentional people preferences, formed by our socialization and experiences, including exposure to the media. They are the result of our limited cognitive capacity; we implicitly and automatically both group and categorize people to avoid having to conduct entirely new assessments for every new person.

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We unconsciously assign a positive and negative value to the categories we use and without even realizing we rely on stereotypes which are often based on images in mass media, or reputations passed on by parents, peers and other members of society. These stereotypes can be positive or negative, and they are one of the forms of our unconscious bias.

According to Nottx.com, 20% female  black, Asian and minority ethnic jobseekers altered their name in applications and almost all who changed their name reported a higher level of call-backs from potential employers; and according to the CIPD 51% of HR professionals in the UK were found to be biased against overweight women – and were unaware that this was the case.

Unconscious Bias is hugely prevalent in business and when hiring and recruiting people. It is in our biological nature to gravitate toward others who are similar to us. Our unconscious bias and preference toward similarity are best embodied by the word “fit.” When you hear the word “fit” as it relates to hiring, it is essential to ask yourself: who does this person fit with, and who makes that decision?

You can take practical steps to reduce this bias, for example, if you are looking to hire someone, then ensure the wording of your job advert does not favor one group of people or another and when you read resumes, read several side by side rather than just one a time. That way you focus more on the performance and skills mentioned than on issues such as gender. You can also learn about ways to avoid discrimination by studying for an online leadership degree and learn about psychological and sociological variables associated with your behavior or in a group or organizational setting.

To try and avoid Unconscious Biases, you need to be honest with yourself about the stereotypes that affect you. For example, you may consciously think that men and women are equally effective leaders but, as a woman, you believe that men perhaps don’t have the same level of empathy and people skills as women. That subconscious bias could influence your actions so that male candidates could be excluded from specific roles or positions.

You can also find out if you have unconscious biases by doing a test such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), created by researchers from Harvard, Virginia and Washington universities, as this measures the strength of links you make between concepts, for example, race or sexuality, and evaluation of stereotypes, such as whether those concepts are good or bad. Also, pay particular attention to your choices when you are feeling tired, rushed or stressed, as these situations tend to activate our biases.

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80 thoughts

  1. Totally agree with the things you shared. Though some are not actually intending to discriminate are doing it unconsciously. We generally think , women are most affected with these biased stereotypes , but there are actually many cases with men too who suffers anxiety , depression with the societal gender roles.

    Appreciate you for picking up this topic and sharing some facts. Hope this gives awareness .

    1. This a brilliant way to respond to such a post. I think women get too much awareness in modern society for mental health issues or physical health problems. Men need to be seen as humans, that also suffer from these things and not always strong as stereotyped. We are equals.

  2. The link to the test looks interesting, thanks. Unconscious bias is one of things we all like to think we’re immune from, yet almost all of us employ it.

  3. “For example, you may consciously think that men and women are equally effective leaders but, as a woman, you believe that men perhaps don’t have the same level of empathy and people skills as women.”

    As a woman, I honestly feel that the opposite is true: the men in my life have more empathy than the women. It is quite rare for me to trust or respect another female, so as a reader of your blog, I must see you as respectable and trustworthy. 🙂 But in most cases, I would probably hire a man instead of a woman. Their race really is irrelevant though.

  4. Thank you for bringing to light this relevant issue. 🙂
    As a Chinese girl who have lived in both America and Canada, I felt the need to confirm to other’s unconscious bias.
    In school, I notice that people would listen to others instead of me, even though I was saying the same thing. I guess it was because of my accent, which I am so embarrassed of.
    Then I thought, maybe it wasn’t me who needs to change, because I have changed so much for others without any recognition.

    1. Yes girl and don’t worry about your accent, I have one too and I’ve accepted it ☺🌷

  5. I try to be a good person and now I have to worry about what my unconscious is doing too. I have enough trouble with my conscious mind. But it’s good to think about it in relation to unintentionally discriminating against someone.

  6. I’m sad that Bennet and the other writers/researchers in this arena use the term “unconscious “ as opposed to “sub-conscious “ to describe when we automatically employ our preferences and judgements based on our spheres of influences. I always think of unconscious as a state of sleep, injury, or perhaps drunkenness. Our subconscious mind means that we’re awake, but not actively questioning or examining out thought processes. Alas, “unconscious “ is the chosen word for this movement of self-awareness and social integration, of which I am excited,

  7. I really like this piece – this has been floating in my mind the past year and have wanted this to be part of my 2019 resolution – to be mindful of my biases and train myself to work on a higher level…

  8. Thanks for raising awareness on this issue, Ula. Dealing with biases start with being aware of them.
    Happy New Year to you!
    Marva | SunSparkleShine

  9. Wow! This is refreshing.
    I saw a job opening some years ago. They didn’t mention much about work experience, they were looking for tall light skinned ladies.
    It is really messed up.

  10. Great post! I recently heard a talk on unconscious bias and the speaker mentioned that in 1/3 of the time it takes to blink your eye we’ve already judged someone based on their appearance alone without even realizing it. Unconscious bias is a discussion that needs to be more prevalent. I hope one day soon we will see each other as God sees us “for the way man sees is not the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but Jehovah sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I continue to do an honest assessment of myself to work towards that reality. Thank you for this great information.

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