To have biases is to be human. The society we grow up in influences our biases. You might not want to confront them, and you may not agree with them, but they’re most likely present.

In this article we will look at:
• biases and why we have them
• conscious and unconscious biases
• how we can deal with them
• share an exercise that will help you as a leader or facilitator identify your biases

Biases – Why Do We Have Them?

Conscious and Unconscious Biases

Conscious Bias

When we are consciously bias we are doing it intentionally. We know we are being bias towards a particular person or group. Imagine you prefer working with men more than women. Or you don’t like working with young people or those with a different colour skin or culture. These are all dangerous prejudices.

Most people now understand that there is no place for this in the modern workplace. Laws and policies exist to prevent prejudice based on race, age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation and many other characteristics. Should you act upon prejudices in the workplace you could face disciplinary action, lose your job and even be charged with a criminal offence.

Unconscious Biases

Now let’s consider unconscious bias. This type of bias is carried out unconsciously. So you could be doing something without realising you were doing it. Everyone’s unconscious bias is different according to the unique social factors which influenced them and formed the individual they are.

Unconscious bias can occur when we need to make decisions and judgements. We are not always making conscious decisions which are well thought through, taking all factors into account. Our brains work quickly so they access information which is known and familiar to us first.

This information is based on our personal experiences meaning there is a natural bias towards views and opinions which fit with the world view we are most familiar and comfortable with. By doing this unconsciously, there is no malicious intent, we are often unaware that we have done it, and of its impact and implications.

Unconscious bias clouds and undermines decisions. Unconscious bias holds on to stereotypes and will disregard anyone who fits into these groups.

Types of Unconscious Bias

Affinity bias occurs when you unconsciously prefer someone because they remind you of yourself.

Ageism in the workplace is the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age.

Attribution bias involves the idea that achievements result from luck while errors or mistake occur due to a lack of skills.

Beauty bias refers to how we treat another individual based on their, or lack of, physical attractiveness.

Confirmation we will often try to find information that supports our arguments and thinking.

Conformity often associated with group mentality, conformity bias is when our social circle influences our perception of someone.

Contrast Effect effectively comparing apples to oranges, the contrast effect is a type of bias that arises from contrasting two entirely separate things.

Gender Bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another gender.

Halo & Horns Effect the halo effect occurs when we focus on one particularly great attribute, ignoring all other flaws or defects while the horns effect involves concentrating solely on one negative characteristic despite other more positive ones.

Height Bias or heightism is the tendency to judge a person who is significantly shorter or taller than the socially-accepted human height.

Name Bias is the tendency people have to judge and prefer people with certain types of names — typically names that are of Anglo origin.

Dealing with Unconscious Biases

Here are some tips for dealing with your own unconscious biases…..

  • Learn as Much as Possible About Unconscious Bias…and Ways to Combat It
  • Tell Your Story…and Listen to the Stories of Others
  • Avoid Stereotypes and Over-Generalisations
  • Separate Feelings from Facts
  • Have a Diverse Group of People around the Decision-Making Table
  • Engage in Self- Reflection to Uncover Personal Biases
  • Develop Safe and Brave Spaces to Discuss Unconscious Bias
  • Be an Active Ally
  • Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
  • Practice Empathy

Exercise: Identifying Your Biases and Defensive Triggers

This exercise is designed to help you identify your biases and hot buttons. Here are the steps:

It can be very difficult to fully acknowledge our biases. We all have them, yet how truly aware of them are we? Our conscious biases are one thing, as long as we are aware of them and they don’t hurt anyone then they fall into that category of our make-up, and we generally know when they’re in play. Acknowledging that we are using them in an argument is another thing though!

What about Unconscious Bias – what do we mean exactly when we consider this type of bias?

  1. By yourself (or with someone who knows you well and whom you trust to give you honest feedback), identify the following:
    • Things that people do that really bother you
    • Group situations that you find embarrassing and/or threatening
    • Things that your really dislike about yourself
    • The values and beliefs that you consider most important
    • Prejudices that you have
  2. Take one or more items from the list. Think of a situation in which the items decreased your ability to accurately diagnose and intervene in a group or team session/meeting. Think about how your feelings about that issue may have led you to make untested inferences and attributions about one or more people in the group.

Source: The author of this exhibit is Dick McMahon

John Tattersall
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