Unconscious Bias & Implicit BiasThe Underlying Platform Of Discrimination In The Workplace
Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias
Implicit Bias, also referred to as Unconscious Bias, is the platform upon which our unwitting discrimination rests. There are subtle differences between implicit bias and unconscious bias, but the following broad definition applies to both.
Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias Definition:
The positions we hold about others that are influenced by past experiences, forming filters that cause conclusions to be reached, about groups or ethnicities, by ways other than through active thought or reasoning.
The paradox of both Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias is that they are intangible states of mind. One cannot actually DO an Implicit Bias or an Unconscious Bias.
Looking at this definition, there are three terms that illustrate this paradox; ‘positions’, ‘filters’, and ‘conclusions’.
One cannot DO a position – We HOLD a position.
One cannot DO a filter – We FORM filters.
One cannot DO a conclusion – We REACH a conclusion.
When these ‘states of mind’ become tangible and visible, they move out of the cerebral realm and into the action-mode, becoming, MicroInequities.
It is only through MicroInequities (and micromessages) that Unconscious and Implicit Biases are manifested.
Examples of Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias:
- Resumes with ethnic sounding names pushed down in the selection for interviews.
- Asian candidates given priority positions requiring math and science.
- Women more frequently interrupted in business meetings.
- Some team members, who arrive late to a meeting, are welcomed and given a brief update on what transpired prior to their arrival. Other team members, based on a racial, gender, generational or other differences, receive only a fleeting glance from the leader, subtly conveying a message of admonishment with no welcome or update offered.
For example, in the case of the review of resumes, the Implicit Bias is the unconscious state of mind that minorities are less qualified. The MicroInequity is choosing to push the resume to the side.
In the case of the priority for Asians in math and science, the Implicit Bias is the belief that these skills are dominant for that ethnic group. The MicroInequity is making the job offer.
In the example of women being interrupted more frequently, the Unconscious Bias is that men have more important things to say and are more authoritative. The MicroInequity is to actively disregard female colleagues’ remarks and marginalize their contribution by speaking over them.
In the case of different treatment when a colleague arrives late to a meeting, the Unconscious Bias is that we hold opinions about people’s value, power and influence, unwittingly. The MicroInequity is the clear difference in behavior by being vocal and providing the information to one while withholding this same information from, and remaining silent with another.
In this particular example, there is an important distinguishing point. If the same negative treatment is consistently delivered to everyone, then it is not a MicroInequity – It is simply consistently delivered bad behavior. It is only when delivered differently, to different groups or individuals, that the behavior becomes a MicroInequity.
Most critically, the only way Implicit Bias and Unconscious Biases can be managed is by identifying the MicroInequities that reveal them.
Negative Effects of Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias in the Workplace:
The negative effects of Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias in the workplace are pervasive. They can become an insidious presence effecting loyalty, commitment and performance. The challenge is they are often executed unwittingly with neither the sender, nor the receiver, being actively conscious of the messages being sent, making them difficult to identify and manage.
A single drop of water does no harm. However, intermittent drops, over time, can potentially cause rust and even erosion. Similarly, the impact of MicroInequities can cause rust on the performance of others in the workplace. The effect is often gradual and easily missed. When the behavior is more prominent and easily noticed, it is no longer a MicroInequity. Such overt and easily noticed behaviors are more macro in nature and simply represent bad behavior.
Also, when destructive behavior is obvious and clear, they do not fall in the categories of Implicit or Unconscious Biases – they are just plain biases.
Examples of the damaging impact of MicroInequities in the workplace:
- Marginalizes and under-utilizes talent
- Impairs recruitment and retention
- Erodes an individual’s performance
- Stifles innovation and growth
- Inhibits team work and collaboration
- Adversely affects business growth
- Erodes company brand
The effects of these MicroInequities are the focal point in Insight Education Systems’ corporate training program, MicroInequities: The Power of Small. This program focuses on solutions for both identifying and managing implicit and unconscious bias in the workplace.
Managing Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias in the Workplace:
There are a variety of training strategies for Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias training. Most approaches focus on an analysis of the ways our brains work, the root causes of our biases and provide broad-scale examples of how they are revealed and observed.
Unfortunately, this approach tends to be too broad-based to have an effect on the ways people change their behaviors in their day-to-day interactions.
For example, learning that 60% of American CEOs are over six feet tall, yet less than 15% of American men are over that height. This is an interesting and revealing statistic but, what does one DO about it?
Data revealing that overweight people are often given lower performance appraisal ratings provides enlightening information, but offers no actionable solution to the problem.
Discovering that candidates with ethnic sounding names receive a lower percentage of callbacks for an interview is eye-opening and heightens awareness but the question remains, what specifically is one expected to do about it?
Clearly, no one should be expected to interview all short people, or give high performance ratings to those who are overweight.
Spending time learning about these and countless other ways that Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias are manifested is introspective, analytical and even interesting. This traditional training approach, offered by most courses and workshops, leaves participants excited about having achieved a new-found knowledge of Implicit Bias but leaves them puzzled about how to remedy these behaviors upon returning to the workplace.
These traditional approaches are simply not good enough. There is a dangerous self-deception in thinking this awareness makes us an active part of the solution.
It’s important to shift from the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of implicit bias to the ‘HOW’ in terms of the actions we take, in our day-to-day interactions with colleagues, to manage it in order to effect meaningful change.
Insight Education Systems’ program, MicroInequities: The Power of Small, offers a comprehensive approach that includes tactical and practical solutions to eliminating the impact of Unconscious Bias and Implicit Bias in the workplace. The training program focuses entirely on the tangible, audible and visible manifestations (MicroInequities) of these biases and provides comprehensive tools to actively manage these behaviors in the workplace.
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