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How Can You Manage Unconscious Bias?

Video Script: Unconscious Bias

My name is Russell Lookadoo, President and Chief Strategist for HRchitecture. I am the HR guy for small business. My firm exists to leverage my expertise and experience in Human Resources so that the small business owner can achieve their dreams through effective use of their team.

The question of discrimination and unfairness is very much on the front burner of our consciousness these days. Discrimination includes race of course, but it also includes a multitude of non-job-related traits that should not be factors in workplace decision making.

Leaders making decisions regarding hiring, promotions, performance evaluation, pay and termination. We need to be aware of, well…what we are unaware of.

In other words, bless your heart you can't control yourself...unless you become aware that you are subject to patterns and conditioning that you accepted and developed unintentionally. Let me give you two examples:

· When screens are placed in front of musicians auditioning for orchestras it has been reported that the selection of females increased by 50%

· An author sent identical query letters to one hundred literary agents; fifty as Catherine and fifty letters as George. Catherine received two positive responses George received seventeen, 8.5 times higher.

The mind is like an iceberg. Most of the brain’s operations are performed by the subconscious or the unconscious mind without involving the primary user, you. Emotion based decisions such as discrimination are rooted in the unconscious mind. We are programmed by repeated or reinforced experiences that deepen the neural channels of brain activity.

Paradoxically smarter, faster thinking individuals may be more susceptible. In looking at behavioral styles, I believe that individuals who are high D or High I type are potentially more prone to unconscious bias in those high S or high C types.

Like increasing emotional intelligence, it is possible to overcome these deeply rooted thought processes. Overcoming the challenge begins with awareness.

Here are six major categories of unconscious bias:

#1: Affinity Bias

The affinity biased has been called “hiring in the mirror”. People naturally like themselves generally more than we like the unknown people. When we encounter a person that has something in common with us, we likely prefer those people than those for whom we have nothing in common. Those traits can include race, gender, hair color, common hometowns, schools, or other things that create an instant connection. Affinity bias can cause you to avoid individuals different than yourself.

A strategy to overcome the affinity bias is to include other people with different characteristics in the decision-making process.

#2: Confirmation Bias

The Confirmation Bias causes you to seek out or be more responsive to information that confirms your beliefs, or your experience. A confirmation bias against individuals of a different culture can create discriminatory decision making. In looking at a name you may only see information on a resume prejudicing your decision. That piece of information can cause you to bypass non-confirming information. A study was performed where 100 identical resumes were sent to potential employers. The first resume was sent in with the name Adam and the second with the name Mohammed. Adam received twelve interviews Mohammed only four, a 300% difference.

Potential defense against the confirmation bias including screens in auditions, redacting names from resumes, performance assessments based on measurements, and conducting telephone interviews as opposed to in person interviews.

#3: Horns/Halo Bias

This bias is temporal in nature. First impressions and last impressions are over-considered in making decisions. A singular event in the course of the relationship creates an impression that may not be job or work related.

Halo Bias studies have shown that men judged independently as handsome earn 13% more than men who are assessed to be less attractive. Another study has shown that prettier, thinner and or lighter-skinned women have loans approved at a much higher percentage.

Overcoming this bias can be accomplished through grid-scored interviews that are based on the essential elements of the job.

#4: Outgroup Homogeneity Bias

The effect of this bias is those that aren't in your group are all the same, and the group you are in is very diverse. For example, "all green people are lazy and dishonest." This is perpetuated by things like dumb blonde jokes, ethnic jokes and blackface.

The Outgroup Homogeneity Bias can be present when a picture of Lawrence Fishburne is printed instead of a picture of Samuel L Jackson or picture of Reese Witherspoon instead of a correct picture of Carrie Underwood. Just recently, there were two politicians in a social media post honoring John Lewis used a picture of Elijah Cummings instead. Well intended but unconsciously biased.

Defense against Outgroup Homogeneity Bias starts with having a diverse group of contacts. Intentionally seek out people that aren't like yourself learn about individuals from different backgrounds, races, religious tradition, or cultures.

While I was with a large corporation in a southern city, Outgroup Homogeneity Bias was intentionally addressed by senior leadership. Leaders were expected to reach out and have lunch with someone of a different race at least once a month.

#5: Groupthink Bias

We all swim in similar schools, or as the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Groupthink bias can be reinforced by strong peer pressure to get along and not rock the boat. We’ve seen the picture of one person standing on the one side of a number that looks like a 6 and the other side of the number that looks like 9. The Groupthink bias is exacerbated if a leader is strongly expressing his or her opinion or a large majority of people are on the other side of the opinion.

In a significant social psychology experiment known as the ASCH Conformity Affect, a piece of paper was given to everybody that had one vertical line on the left and three vertical lines on the right of different lengths. The investigation asked which of the lines on the right is the same height as the ones on the left. Paid actors selected a line that was obviously wrong, and all argued for the wrong choice. The subject of the experiment guessed the correct line but the force of being on the other side of the actors frequently changed the mind of the subject who chose the correct one initially.

Possible defenses for the Groupthink Bias are to empower people to speak up or having a designated “devil's advocate” to offer a counter argument. Leaders need to be alert when they see the Groupthink happening and intervene by giving airtime to opposing views. Other defenses include individually scored assessments and using secret ballots for decision-making.

#6: Biased Recall

Due to Recall Bias, we tend to remember things that we agree with or we find pleasant and block out unpleasant disagreeable information. First impression, over-impression and recency can outweigh the validity of the actual information.

Solutions to defeating Biased Recall include contemporaneous record-keeping or journaling particularly in performance management to avoid impact decision making.

Overall Blind Spot Bias

My intent with this post is to help you defend against being unaware of your unconscious biases. The act of thinking about your unconscious biases as you make decisions is the start of avoiding the blind spots you didn't even know you had.

Ten Tools to Tackle Unconscious Bias

  1. Increased Awareness

  2. Constructive Certainty

  3. Widen Circles

  4. Measure

  5. Anonymize

  6. Slow Down

  7. Count Everything

  8. Check Language

  9. Positive Images

  10. Contemporaneous Record Keeping

This issue needs to be addressed. Unconscious bias can be crippling for a small business.

Negative Impacts Positive Impacts

Lost Productivity Innovation

Lower Morale Higher Morale

Disengagement Engagement

Unethical Behavior Reputation

Litigation Profitability

Albert Einstein is reported to have said “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. You must stand on a higher ground.”

The benefits of minimizing unconscious bias are obvious and profound. Contact me, and we can create customized awareness training for your business.

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