The Hidden Obstacle to Inclusivity: Overcoming Unconscious Bias
Have you ever found yourself making a decision or forming an opinion about someone or something without realizing why? This is the result of unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias. Unconscious biases can be insidious and often go unnoticed, but they can have a profound impact on our perceptions, actions, and decisions. In this article, we will explore what unconscious biases are, why they are so prevalent, and how we can work to overcome them.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes, stereotypes, and prejudices that we hold unconsciously, without even realizing it. These biases are often shaped by our experiences, upbringing, cultural background, and societal norms. They can influence our decision-making processes, leading us to make judgments based on preconceived notions rather than objective criteria.
The consequences of unconscious bias can be far-reaching, impacting everything from hiring decisions to how we treat people in our personal lives. Research has shown that unconscious biases can even affect how medical professionals diagnose and treat patients, resulting in disparities in health outcomes.
Why are Unconscious Biases so Prevalent?
Unconscious biases are so prevalent because they are deeply ingrained in our subconscious minds. They are the result of years of exposure to cultural messages and societal norms, which shape our perceptions of the world around us. Even people who consider themselves to be open-minded and unbiased can still hold unconscious biases, simply because they are so deeply ingrained in our thinking patterns.
Overcoming Unconscious Bias
The good news is that there are strategies we can use to overcome unconscious biases and promote inclusivity in our personal and professional lives. Here are some tips for recognizing and addressing unconscious biases:
Be Aware of Your Biases
The first step in addressing unconscious biases is to become aware of them. Reflect on your own experiences and consider how they may have shaped your perceptions and biases. You can also take online tests to assess your unconscious biases and gain a deeper understanding of how they may be influencing your decisions.
Challenge Your Assumptions
When you find yourself making assumptions or judgments about someone or something, challenge yourself to examine the evidence and consider alternative perspectives. Ask yourself why you hold these beliefs and whether they are based on objective criteria or preconceived notions.
Diversify Your Experiences
Expose yourself to a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, both in your personal and professional life. This can help broaden your horizons and challenge your assumptions about the world around you.
Developing empathy can help you better understand and relate to people from different backgrounds. Take the time to listen to others' perspectives and consider their experiences, even if they differ from your own.
Read books, watch documentaries, and attend workshops on diversity and inclusion to gain a deeper understanding of different cultures and perspectives. Educating yourself can help you become more aware of your own biases and work to overcome them.
I have personally encountered unconscious bias, both as a victim and a perpetrator. During my tenure in the hospitality industry, I recall serving customers who were unaware of my background, despite my being from a well-educated and affluent family. As a hostess and waitress, I frequently interacted with customers who assumed that I hailed from the Philippines or Indonesia. Although some of their conduct was unpalatable, I recognized that it was part of the job. At the same time, I became cognizant of my own biases and caught myself making judgments based on people's appearance or cultural heritage, even though I acknowledged that such biases were unjustified and unwarranted.
An instance that stands out to me is when I was conducting interviews for a cook job vacancy. During the interview with a non-Chinese candidate, I caught myself presuming that he would have inadequate cooking skills in the Chinese kitchen. However, upon observing his proficiency with the wok and his preparation of Chinese fried rice, I realized that his background did not hinder his abilities. This experience prompted me to recognize my biases and commit to overcoming them.
Unconscious biases are a hidden obstacle to inclusivity, affecting our perceptions, actions, and decisions. Overcoming these biases requires self-awareness, empathy, and a commitment to diversifying our experiences and educating ourselves. By working to overcome our unconscious biases, we can create a more inclusive and equitable world for all. As Nelson Mandela once said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Have you ever experienced unconscious bias? If so, we would love it if you could share your story with us and let us know how you handled the situation. We believe that open and honest conversations about these experiences can be incredibly powerful and can help us all learn and grow as individuals. By sharing our stories, we can begin to change our thinking and become more aware of our biases. So please, feel free to share your insights with us! Together, we can help each other heal and grow.
"Don't Let Unconscious Bias Influence Your Decisions", Melinda Fouts, Ph.D. Forbes Magazine (2022).
"How To Avoid The Consequences Of Unconscious Biases", Melinda Fouts, Ph.D. Forbes Magazine (2022).