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Thirsty Thursdays: Your Bias is Showing!

Thirsty Thursdays: Your Bias is Showing!

We all like to think we are unbiased – it just isn’t true.  We want to be objective but we can’t ever be fully unbiased because of the normal socialization we all experience during our childhood and through the constant shaping as we progress through life.  Parents, teachers, friends, significant one-off life experiences, books, media, church, and so many other people and events have all injected bias into our minds.  But what is unconscious bias?

Simply put, it is an inclination for or against a person or group that influences our judgement of them in an unfair way.  This translates into all aspects of our lives but has the greatest impact when we make decisions.  And often times it's the affinity towards a person or group that introduces a potentially-illegal  position or action in the workplace.  It is fortunate that the vast majority of instances when bias occurs it is without conscious intent but simply as a result of the product of our experiences and socialization throughout our lives.

Through the sum total of our experiences we've been conditioned in many ways to embrace and exhibit bias.  For most of us this has not been trained deliberately, nor is it used maliciously.  

Consider this statistic which demonstrates the innocent nature of bias.  60% of CEOs are over six-feet tall yet only 15% of the population shares that distinction.  36% of CEOs are over 6' 2" tall yet only 4% of the population is that tall.  

There is no secret society of tall people who have been conspiring to influence the hiring and appointment of CEOs.  Beauty is one of the types of biases that exist and are naturally occurring.

Don't you join a church because it resonates with your beliefs?  Aren't you proud to be an American?  Don't you identify strongly with your ethnic heritage?  Again, for the overwhelming majority of humanity, we don't hate or dislike the opposites to those examples but we're very comfortable and happy to rub elbows with those just like us.

There are many types of bias that exist.  Unless we understand them how can we recognize and self-monitor to guard against their influence in the workplace?

·Halo - One positive act is projected on all attributes of the person or group.
·Horn - Opposite of Halo
·Affinity – You went to Rutgers?  Me too!!
·Conformity – group think...will you go along with everyone even if it's the wrong choice?
·Beauty – an affinity for handsome and attractive people
·Similarity Effect – drawn to people like yourself
·Contrast Effect – when a comparison is made using only the last reference point
·Attribution – Success = I did it; Failure = someone else is to blame
·Confirmation bias – when a decision you make is confirmed as correct you then begin seeking out more confirming data.

As we all strive to gain knowledge about how influences like unconscious bias impact our business it's important to derive a sense of self awareness to aid in prevention.

Founded in 1998, Project Implicit is a non-profit organization that seeks to conduct extensive research and understand social cognition - specifically thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.

As it forms data sets, uncovers patterns and starts to unlock the drivers of unconscious bias, Project Implicit also pushes to educate the public.

Project Implicit also provides a wealth of published information and offers lectures, workshops and other applications through consulting work to academic, legal and corporate organizations.

Project Implicit offers 14 free bias-related tests, called Implicit Association Tests (IATs).  They range from race affinity, sexual orientation, physical appearance and other attributes and personal characteristics.

I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in learning about some of their potential unconscious biases visit



When you see homeless people, are you disgusted or are you moved by pity?  


Naturally, as we all know, we have blind spots.  They are often described as "I don't know what I don't know."  And the word ignorance is much maligned but the actual definition is simple, "a lack of knowledge or information."  For us to become better people, less judgemental, more open-minded and less set in our ways there are four clear steps to take.

Our first step is awareness.  Only once you know unconscious bias can exist and influence your decisions can you educate yourself about it.  Step two is learning.  This is focused on learning to recognize what biases we have and how they become manifested through our decisions.    The third step is recognition.  Once we understand the existence and form of our biases we can then begin to notice when they show up in our lives, both personal and professional.  Do not become discouraged at this stage.  Often at the onset of acquiring a new competency this recognition will occur too late.  But it's important you see the progress you're making in seeing things that were invisible to you before.  Be  happy and proud you're on the path to become a less-biased person.  And finally, step four is proactive prevention.  Don't worry when you fail because we all fail at this as these unconscious biases are so hidden and deeply programmed it's very hard to master and will take great effort and much time to prevent.  It's as much about the effort to become aware, educate yourself, recognize and then prevent to some varying degree our unconscious biases which shows our willingness and desire to be fair, ethical and unbiased in our lives.

Thirsty Thursdays are about our collective thirst for learning and knowledge.  It’s not about Beer:30 [although HR4ALL is all for that, too!]  We hope this weekly nugget of knowledge opens your mind and gives you a reason to pause and think differently.    Have a great weekend everyone! 

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