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Uncovering Unconscious Bias

Nov 10, 2022
Uncovering Unconscious Bias

Biases - we all have them. Whether it’s our favourite bar or pub, or our ultimate films and movies, there’s a multitude of factors that affect our decision-making for day-to-day life. But, although bias can be great when it comes to picking a restaurant, in the world of business and recruitment - this can manifest itself as a deeper problem.

Sure, the biases we are aware of are seemingly less insidious because we can tackle them. But, what about unconscious bias? How do we navigate biases that we didn’t even realise we had?

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is defined as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one's tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.”

For example, let’s say you’re interviewing two 30-year-old individuals for a leadership role, one man, and one woman. They both have the same experience and skill level, and both would be an excellent fit for your team. But - what unconscious biases can come into play depending on your beliefs? 

You may hold the unconscious view that women make better leaders - thus leading you to pick the woman. Or, you may unconsciously assume that the woman may want to have children, so you’re more likely to pick the man on the basis that he won’t need to take a career break. 

Both decisions can lead to you picking an unsuitable candidate, however, it’s important to note that unconscious bias runs deeper than just hiring and scaling a business. Your biases about certain individuals can affect the way that you speak and interact with others at work, and ultimately play a huge part in your day-to-day life - let alone decision-making.

How can we work to uncover them, and why is that important?

The first step to uncovering your unconscious biases is by bringing them to the surface and making them conscious. 

This isn’t going to happen overnight - but being able to identify why you think the way you do and how that impacts your interactions and decisions at work (and in your personal life) can enable you to become more balanced and self-aware, whilst also holding others accountable. 

You can split this up into three key areas and start to identify why you think the way you do:

Social beliefs:  

Your social beliefs will be influenced by the people you surround yourself with, the content you consume, and also the way that you have been raised. Highlight what your social beliefs are and try to identify how this can create unconscious biases and what that may look like. Within your social circle - do you challenge each other or do you all hold the same views? What kind of conversations do you have? All of these things can enable you to uncover your unconscious biases and start working through them. 

Media consumption and education:

Uncovering your biases is all well and good, but what are you doing beyond that? Looking at the media you consume and figuring out if it’s reinforcing your biases is the first step, but the second step is education. Let’s say you have a particular bias and you’re unsure where it has come from: read up on it. Consume media that will give you a multifaceted view, which will enable you to escape tunnel vision views. Nuance is key!

And finally, communication is everything.

Sometimes, it can feel scary to say your unconscious (now conscious) bias out loud. It may have shocked you, or you’re unsure how to work through it - but the reality is, all of us are full of biases; unconscious or conscious - at least you’re taking the steps to understand yourself and your thought processes more!

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