Unconscious bias, or implicit association, plays a part in all of our lives and how we lead others. Last week we discussed what this kind of bias is and what the types of unconscious bias are. Today we are jumping into finding it in our own lives and then strategies to address it in an actionable way. 

Discover and recognize your unconscious bias 

It can be hard to see our unconscious bias. It’s called unconscious for a reason! Instead of tracking your brain for what basis you may have, look at it from a simpler perspective.

Think about the decisions that you make that center around people that you don’t give much thought to. Take a moment to think about the reasons that you made the decision that you did. Do you task a female leader as the one to provide emotional support when someone is going through a hard time, because you feel like women are more empathetic?  Do you put a male in charge of lofty sales goals because you feel like men are more goal-oriented and action-focused? 

Taking time to reflect and assess the root causes of some of your decision-making processes is s a great place to start in recognizing and discovering your own unintentional bias. 

Take the test

Harvard University can help you get a jump start in uncovering your unconscious bias through a free self-assessment. Once you enter the site, you can choose from 15 different areas of gender, race, sexuality, and a number of other things to assess yourself in. I know that I have an affinity towards our Native American population in the U.S. The assessment proved just that. While I consider native Americans and Whites equal, I have a slight automatic association of American with Native Americans and Foreign with Whites. 

Interestingly, more than 50% of the near 250,000 that have taken the Native American test first reported as viewing both groups equally, but only 20% completed the test that way. The majority found out that a majority of people have a bias towards Whites over Native Americans. 

Focus on the tree

There is a saying about people that miss the big picture that goes, “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” meaning that they get derailed in the specifics or something not important and in turn miss the big picture of what’s going on around them. To help in growing through your bias I want you to try to see the tree instead of the forest. 

The forest in the example is the collection of the characteristics of a person’s background that you believe to be true. Instead of focusing on all the preconceived notions and mental baggage that we attach to people, focus on the individual right in front of you. Let their actions and words stand on their own. Give them a chance to build trust and a reputation with you based on their own merits and abilities. 

Discuss and learn

After you have uncovered some of the biases that you may have, be authentic and vulnerable to discuss them with others, particularly with people from socially dissimilar groups. Many larger organizations are starting business (or employee) resource groups that bring together people with similar backgrounds or interests. Join up with some of these groups to learn more and challenge the notions that you have about them. 

If you don’t have BRGs or ERGs at your workplace, be mindful to introduce yourself to a different view online or in your community. As funny as it sounds, I think it’s easier to find this in the community than it is online. Your social media algorithms push content that aligns with your current thoughts and preferences and suppresses opposing views. (See The Social Dilemma)  You’ll need to go out of your way to find it on social media, but it’s out there. 

We’ve all got unconscious bias. Understand what it is and how it impacts your leadership decisions on a regular basis. Use the techniques and tips above to begin addressing those ideas and become a more inclusive leader as a result. 

Make a better tomorrow.