The Bias in All of Us

I hear it all the time in cubicles, in the cafeteria, in the restroom and around the water cooler:

• I don’t have a biased bone in my body.
• I am not biased, I have two American Indian friends.
• I don’t need diversity and inclusion training, I am unbiased toward everyone.
• Bias is dead since we elected President Obama.
• Even though you don’t look like us, if you work hard around here you can succeed like everyone else.

News flash! We are all biased. I am biased and you are biased. When I say you are biased I am not inferring that you are an evil person. It is not an issue of being right or wrong. It is a matter of identifying which bias is ours and recognizing those things that trigger it.

Please keep in mind that not all bias is bad. Our fight or flight response when we feel physically threatened is a good kind of bias. This kind of bias could save our life or the lives of our loved ones.

It is the unconscious bias beneath the surface totally outside our awareness that gets us in trouble. Here are some examples:

• People with white sounding names get more return calls for job applications than people with black sounding names-2004 University of Chicago.
• Black job applicants with no criminal records receive fewer job offers than white applicants with criminal records-2009 Princeton and Yale Universities.
• All-white juries are 16% more likely to convict a Black suspect than a white perpetrator. When juries were composed of at least one Black juror, white and black defendants were convicted at the same rates-2012 Quarterly Journal of Economics.
• People of color represent nearly 40% of the country’s population but only 10% of the country’s children’s books were written by and/or about people of color over the last five years-2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
• There are 153 teams among the six biggest professional major league sports in the United States and Canada and there is one Black majority owner- 2013 Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration.
• Regardless if a woman has a 0 GPA or a 4.0 GPA in high school, she will be out earned by men with similar GPAs-2014 Eastern Economic Journal.
• The more physically attractive someone is the more likely they will get a job offer-2013 University of Messina, Italy.
• People favor those who have a similar accent-2010 University of Chicago.

So what is a person supposed to do? Noted inclusion consultant Howard Ross has some suggestions:

• Recognize and accept you are biased by removing guilt and accepting responsibility.
• Use the flashlight on yourself. Do certain people and situations trigger bias in me?
• Manage uncertainty that differences bring in a constructive manner. When confronted with a difference, ask yourself what am I feeling?
• Explore the pain and discomfort. Instead of running away, ask yourself the question, what is going on right now.
• Engage with people you consider different particularly role models within that group.
• If you a target of bias, give feedback compassionately. Hurtful criticism can drive bias underground.
• Whether you are the unintentional giver or recipient of bias, we all need social primacy. We need a sense of belonging no matter which side of the equation we fall on.

The next time you think the other person is the problem, remember the words in Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo used in the first annual observance of Earth Day, “we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.” As environmental degradation pollutes the earth, unexamined bias pollutes our workplaces. Isn’t time we start cleaning up both?

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