3 Examples of Implicit Bias & What You Can Do About It

by Jul 8, 2020Uncategorized0 comments

We all have implicit bias, and it’s keeping us all from creating a truly inclusive workplace. 

Implicit, or unconscious, bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. We all make assessments involuntarily, or outside of our intentional control, and those assessments affect our behavior. 

For example, this Harvard study found “whitened” resumes fare much better in the application process than those that include ethnic information, even when qualifications are identical. In other words, we assess resumes in ways we don’t even realize, and those assessments play a big role in whom we call back. 

Fortunately for survival, but unfortunately for our equity initiatives, our brains are wired to process information quickly and we always reach a conclusion regardless of whether there is enough or contradicting information. 

Research hasn’t found that we can eliminate bias, but we can minimize it through vigilance in self-awareness and education.

To that end, here are three types of bias and what you can do about them:

CONFIRMATION BIAS. We seek out information and draw conclusions that confirm our existing beliefs. As the Harvard study points out, we form opinions of candidates based on inconsequential attributes like their name, or school, or geography, and more. Everything you see on the resume will then serve to confirm that opinion, and during any interactions with the candidate you will seek to confirm that opinion.

What you can do. Locate an accountability buddy and promise to help each other stay in check. During the recruiting process, for example, talk about the resumes you’ve received and what you see in them. Your buddy can talk through your assumptions with you and help you identify where your biases are hurting candidates.

FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR. We generally blame context for our own failures and blame people or characteristics for their own failures. If you lose out on a promotion you might believe it’s because of the manager who doesn’t like you. When others lose out on promotions you might believe it’s that big mistake they made or their poor-quality work. However, minorities lose out on promotions all the time and indeed, it’s often because of context (i.e., systemic and subtle discrimination so engrained we don’t even know it’s there).

What you can do. Check yourself when you or others fail. Whenever you make a mistake at work – and when others make a mistake at work – journal about it. Write out what happened, what part the context played, and what part you or they played in the issue.  The benefit to this is two-fold: You will notice patterns in your thinking so that you can minimize your bias over time, and you will be able to hold yourself accountable for better blaming. (Wait, that sounded bad, but you know what I mean.)

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE occurs when our actions and thoughts don’t match up. The result is that we seek consistency by either adjusting our actions or our thoughts to bring them back in balance. These days we’re being told that our actions suppress minorities, but most of us see ourselves as fair, open-minded, and empathetic. Our actions and thoughts don’t appear to align, and we’re all experiencing cognitive dissonance.

What you can do.  Get comfortable with uncomfortable so that you can make a difference. If you are really focused on inclusivity, are you getting down into the uncomfortable stuff? Are you having hard conversations with people of color, with white people, with all the groups that make up your diverse workforce? If you’re not uncomfortable right now, you’ve got more work to do on inclusivity and equity.

To be a true ally, upstander, and crusader for equity, you must be aware of your biases and work hard on minimizing them. 

The good news is that we have a webinar coming up to help. Allyship Begins with Recognizing and Minimizing Implicit Bias is on July 23 at 10 am Pacific, and you can register here.

Learn more about biases and how to minimize them, and learn some simple but high-impact tools for being an ally. 

Reserve your spot before we’re out of them!


Catherine and the Civility Partners Team

P.S. Attend live and get a list of 16 ways – or short scripts – to speak up against microaggressions, incivility, and even bullying or harassment.

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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