We All Have Bias: Here Is How to Bust It
You may have experienced unconscious bias—or those automatic quick judgments we make about others based on gender, race or other stereotypes rather than direct experience. The truth is that we all have unconscious bias that impacts our perceptions of others. Research shows that implicit bias is inescapable. While starting a dialogue about these issues has helped increase awareness, reversing these ingrained thought patterns is far from black and white.
For instance, studies have found that workplaces that consider themselves to be highly meritocratic are actually more biased than other organizations. Implicit bias also goes hand in hand with gender bias: One study found that 66% of women’s performance reviews in the tech industry contained negative personality feedback such as, “You could be less judgmental,” compared to only 1% of men’s reviews.
A key to changing workplace culture is to become conscious of our unconscious, and then actively work to reverse these thought patterns. Leaders in The Inclusion Lounge at Microsoft Inspire share their tips on how to be a bias buster. Watch the unplugged conversation here and read on for key takeaways.
Look for your blind spots. To be biased is to be human. “You don’t have to be ashamed about it,” says Leena Porwal, Sr. Director at Harman International. “It starts with recognizing our biases and then leaning into the conversation in the workplace…I check in with myself in the moment to see if there are biases that might be impacting my decisions. It’s an everyday process. ”
Test yourself. There are tests that you can take to help you become more conscious of your unconscious. For example, Harvard’s Implicit Association Test lets you pick topics you’re interested in, such as gender or race, to gauge your level of bias. “I have taken several of these tests now and they’re really illuminating,” says Therese Huston, Professor at Seattle University and author of How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices. “I was pleased to find out that I don’t associate men with science and women with humanities. But I was embarrassed to find out that I do associate women with family life and men with careers, as I come from a very matriarchal family. It was an eye-opener, and can signal where we have more work to do.”
Take small, inclusive steps. Pause to think about how you can be more inclusive in the workplace, such as inviting someone to a meeting who might not normally be included. “It’s not as complicated as it can be made out to be. In fact, very small changes in behavior can lead to vast differences,” says Amanda Moore, VP of Marketing at Live Nation Las Vegas. “For example, if you’re a man, don’t have golf meetings. Women don’t have pedicure meetings!”
Get outside your comfort zone. To better understand the lens through which you see the world, it’s helpful to surround yourself with those who may be different from you. “I had to go out of my hometown [in Norway] to learn about other countries and cultures,” says Heidi Aven, CEO of She Community. “It was important for me to travel and understand the differences. It opened my mind to better understand people who were different than myself.”
Let yourself be vulnerable. “When I’m talking with someone who happens to be in an underrepresented group, I will try to say, ‘I don’t want to put you in the role of educating me, but if I do say something offensive or wrong, would you please tell me?’” says Therese. “Simply saying that gives the other person permission to let you know if you made a misstep.”
Create cultures of care. In order to set the stage for employees to feel like they can speak up if something is bothering them, you have to first create a workplace where everyone feels safe and like they belong. “It’s important to create an environment in your workplace where communicating isn’t weird,” says Amanda. “I’m very conscious of letting everyone know that they always have a voice; I want everyone’s ideas to be heard. You can never empower people enough, especially when you’re with people who are younger or who may be hesitant to speak up about their ideas.”
Admitting we have bias can be uncomfortable, and requires vulnerability. We can all be bias busters in our workplaces by making small daily steps for inclusion, giving the floor to those who may not be as outspoken, and keeping the channels of communication open.
For more action steps for change, check out:
3 Ways to Stop Gender Bias at the Office
Women in Cloud: Make Your Business Fly
Top Female Tech Leaders on Creating Inclusive Cultures