2020 – a new decade is upon us and life is as normal as the tide rises and falls each day. All seems normal, except inside each individual there are anchors for the development of bias.
What? Never! “No, not me… I don’t have any of those things. I’m not __________(fill in the blank)”.
Mirrors Tell All
Be honest with yourself, what came to the forefront of your mind, when you read the word bias?
If you are being honest while looking at the one in the mirror, the person in the mirror would likely softly speak what slight or expansive bias you hold.
Mickalene Thomas an Afro-American contemporary visual artist stated, “A mirror is a powerful tool because it forces you to deal with yourself on a deeper level.”
The question looming at you in the mirror is, “Are you willing to deal with yourself on a deeper level to explore the bias you hold inside?”
What is bias?
According to Psychology Today, “A bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone. Some biases are positive and helpful—like choosing to only eat foods that are considered healthy or staying away from someone who has knowingly cause harm. But biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance.”
Development of Bias
I have a confession, yes the mirror spoke to me! When I was young, my parents drove Hondas, you know the car company? Since I can remember, my parents always drove Hondas, and still today they drive, any guesses… yep Honda’s.
Do you know what type of impression this had on me?
I formed a stereotype that all other manufacturers did not make good cars and only Honda made great cars.
Did I have any evidence to prove my stereotype was true? No.
I just created a false belief in my mind from what I saw. I didn’t even ask my parents what they thought of other car manufacturers, I just formed what I thought was right.
It’s easy to attach a bias to something such as a car and it is also easy to attach a bias to an individual or group of people.
The Unconscious Bias
This is the silent bias that isn’t seen from the outside of an individual but lurks outside one’s conscious awareness.
The University of California, San Francisco defines unconscious bias as, “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their 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.”
Every day as you work through the doors of your remote office due to COVID, you bring your unconscious bias to work and it doesn’t matter what role you have in your organization. Everyone brings it with them.
This baggage brought to work can have a significant impact on company performance.
A study from the non-profit Center for Talent Innovation measured the impact on employees who perceive bias in the workplace. One of the findings showed individuals who perceived bias is more than three times as likely to say that they are planning to leave their place of employment. Bias does impact retention.
Additional Impact of Bias in the Workplace
The development of bias towards someone or a group of people can lend itself to a sense of resentment and then disengagement. Have you ever felt you couldn’t speak up in meetings?
I witnessed a Manager stop an individual from speaking in meetings, not on one occasion but on several occasions. This broadcasted to everyone and the individual to not share.
This type of conditioning in meetings stifled discussion and also caused fear to those in attendance not to speak up.
Unforantley I didn’t bring this up to anyone, as this is the first time I’ve shared what I witnessed. I can assure you those in the meeting felt disengaged and I know the individual slowly transitioned to actively disengaged.
Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion per year! A small cost to pay for allowing bias into the meeting rooms of U.S. companies.
Your Viewpoint Is A Choice
Closely look at this photo, what do you see?
Are you sure? Look again.
Your brain is trained to see what you want to see.
“You see what you choose to see because all perception is a choice.
And when you cease to impose your meanings on what you see,
your spiritual eyes will open, and you will see a world free of judgment
and shining in its endless beauty.” Paul Ferrini
Our brains are wired to keep us from danger, but also will notice that which appears different and not in line with your thinking and can cause divides in the workplace.
I want you to think about someone different from you in your workplace. Next, think about what makes that individual different from you. After you identified the differences, then ask yourself, “Why am I choosing to see these differences?”
Your mind might have gone into judgment mode because of the perception you brought, which creates the development of bias.
How To Change Your Perception
Remember looking into the mirror? If you don’t scroll back up and start reading again. What did the person in the mirror share to you about the bias that you hold?
The development of the bais you hold is created by your perception. So how does one change a deeply rooted bias?
You must be willing to build a bridge of understanding to that bias you hold, which is a choice.
Mustafa Nuur a refugee living in Lancaster, PA shares what he did when confronted with a hate email in this Tedx talk entitled Building Unlikely Bridges. He invited the person who wrote the email to meet for coffee and have a conversation.
Mustafa chose to seek understanding.
Are you willing to gain understanding and listen, which will help shape your perception and perhaps loosen the grip of the held bias?
Would you be willing to feel uncomfortable to test your perception?
Sadly, the discomfort holds the majority back from wanting to address their bias, and thus change cannot occur.
As leaders within your company, leaders do the uncomfortable and shine a light within the workplace for the advance of the company.
Build The Bridge
Will you decide to build the bridge for understanding on one bias that you hold?
Imagine if you built the bridge for understanding in your company and your community.
What would be possible? Possibilities cannot rise until the ties are loosened on the boat of comfort.
Can bias be eliminated?
It depends, but it starts with pioneers to eradicate bias in the workplace and the community. Be the pioneer to seek understanding and remember to bring others along on the journey.
Will you be a pioneer and share this with one person? Let’s see if we really can work collectively to eliminate the development of bias one individual at a time.