Curbing personal biases through self-awareness
WITH AMY NORDIN
MBA, MHRM, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES AT CYANOTECH, AND A VOLUNTEER WITH THE SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT HAWAII CHAPTER
Being aware of our own preconceived notions and biases can help to minimize their negative effects at work. One way to bring your own unconscious biases to light is by taking an online test such as an implicit association test by Harvard University.
This short, free, publicly accessible anonymous test helps you to see where an unconscious bias may be held, such as in areas like gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Q: How can I become more aware of my unconscious biases?
A: Educate yourself. Be mindful and observant of your behavior. Understand and identify those times when you seem to value information more from people similar to you (known as similarity bias), or when you discount contrary evidence because it doesn’t confirm your decision (known as confirmation bias).
Q: What can I do to avoid leaning into my natural biases?
A: Making decisions without acknowledging and taking into consideration your bias can cause problems at work and sometimes can lead to discriminatory attitudes or behavior. Be aware of your biases — if you cannot determine what they are, ask someone you trust and value to help you identify them. Find your triggers — determine the times or state of mind you are in when you find yourself leaning into your biases. Is it when you are meeting in person, writing emails, or on the phone? Is it dependent on your mood; when you are tired, hungry, angry or unengaged? Is it when you feel rushed, judged or stressed? Slow down — during a trigger, slow down, pause and take three deep breaths. With more time, you have the opportunity to watch a person’s body language, reread an email, and listen to another’s perspective. It gives you the chance to challenge your own assumptions before you make a decision.
Q: Can bias ever be good?
A: Remember, all humans have unconscious bias. We are fortunate to have bias. It is the way our brain automatically wades through millions of bits of information each second. Bias is an automatic mental shortcut. It helps us perceive surroundings quickly and efficiently, and guides our behavior during social interaction and decision making.
Q: What can I do if it appears my supervisor is biased?
A: Supervisors can do better when they know better. Finding ways to constructively help supervisors and teammates identify bias in the work-place is a first step in creating a stronger team. Some things you could do is: Request time to collectively walk through the thought process of decisions; test assumptions; bounce ideas off team members (especially those with diverse perspectives); and consider alternative decisions.