Unconscious Bias

How do we address “Unconscious Bias”?

Whether partnering with clients to navigate their Diversity and Inclusion Journey or engaging with new clients who are just beginning to assess the state of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in their organizations, questions around unconscious bias are becoming more and more common. Many of the questions center around the term itself, “Unconscious Bias”. It is reasonable to ask the obvious question:

If we’re unconscious of the bias, what in the world can we possibly do about it?

To answer this central question, we have to do three things:

  1. Identify and define Unconscious Bias
  2. Uncover Unconscious Bias
  3. Develop a practical approach to addressing Unconscious Bias in a consistent and ongoing basis

Before we do any of these things, here’s a critical clarification. Just because we are unaware of our Unconscious Bias does not mean we are absolved of our responsibility to manage it. Nor does it mean that the impact on our personal success, the success of our colleagues or the success of the organization is any less real or profound. It’s quite the opposite, actually. When Unconscious Bias goes unidentified or unmanaged, the impact is literally immeasurable.

  • How much more effective could we be as leaders? as collaborators?
  • How much talent has left the organization seeking greener, more inclusive pastures?
  • How much talent never made it into the organization in the first place?
  • How much more impactful could our teams be?
  • How much more prepared would we be (or have been) for a shrinking globe and the corresponding growing global marketplace?

The reality is organizations that ask us about Unconscious Bias have recognized an inescapable truth:  In terms of time or resources, the question is no longer whether we can afford to address Unconscious Bias, but whether we can afford not to address it.  Smart organizations are taking the proactive step of tackling it. First things first though – What is “it”?

What is Bias?  What is Unconscious Bias?

Simply put, bias is a preference for or against.  Unconscious Bias is bias of which we are unaware. That definition of Unconscious Bias may be self-evident to some, but once we’ve established that, by definition, we are unaware of these biases and we become aware that we need clues that Unconscious Bias may be at play in a situation or in our reaction to a situation.

There are 5 types of Unconscious Bias we encounter on a regular basis:

  1. Situation: An unjustified conclusion based on the feeling we have in uncomfortable or unknown situations.
  2. Person: Biases that you are unaware of that you have about others.
  3. Privilege: Advantages that you don’t know you have yourself.
  4. Similarity: Preference for those who are like us.  
  5. Tradition: Unintended impact of norms, traditions and (written and unwritten) rules.

How do we manage Unconscious Bias?

At this point, some of you may be reminded of a classic joke:

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this

Doctor: Then, don’t do that

We laugh because the common sense answer provides a solution… but not really.

Similarly, in business, we can’t afford to simply say, “Then, don’t do that”, when our organizations try unsuccessfully to retain top talent. We can’t afford to simply say, “Then, don’t do that”, when a lack of employee engagement fails to generate the business results we need. We can’t afford to simply say, “Then, don’t do that”, when innovation suffers as talent goes unrecognized and untapped.

Companies that address Unconscious Bias gain a competitive advantage. Their people are better equipped to navigate a global business landscape, where distances between us shrink and opportunities expand. The reality is that your organization is dealing with Unconscious Bias every day. The only question is: Will you deal with it intentionally now, under your own terms, or later when catastrophe forces you to deal with it?

Let’s try a different version of that joke:

Business Leader: Doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Kaleidoscope Group: Then, intentionally and consistently engage in work that empowers your people to identify their biases, expand their thinking, and shift their behavior to create an inclusive organizational culture.

No, it’s not as funny… but is your bottom line a laughing matter?

Written By:  Orlando Bishop

About The Kaleidoscope Group

The Kaleidoscope Group is a full service, Diversity & Inclusion consulting firm, headquartered in Chicago with a national presence and global reach.  We are a certified minority owned business enterprise (MBE) and are recognized as one of the top 10 pioneers in the Diversity & Inclusion industry.  Kaleidoscope has assisted organizations with successfully managing culture change and creating inclusion for over 30 years.  Our strength is to engage real people, in having real conversations, about real issues to create real change.