What is Unconscious Bias, and its effect on the Workplace Diversity

First appeared on “LinkedIn Pulse

Unconscious Bias and Workplace DiversityIn the beginning of my career I was in charge of a Russian group in London attending a medical conference. We requested an English/ Russian translator. The morning of the conference a beautiful young Vietnamese young woman walked in looking for me. My Biggest surprise is when she introduced herself as our translator.

My own assumption and perception of a Russian looking translator (Whatever that means) didn’t materialize when I saw the Vietnamese translator.

I kept thinking about my reaction, I asked myself why didn’t I even visit the idea that many people speak more than three languages (I speak five). It is not till years later that I was able to put a name to my assumptions: My Unconscious Bias

So what is Bias, and why should we care about it?

First let us start by saying that most people that have bias do not do it on purpose, it is unconscious – It is a blind spot that requires a shift on how we think about other people that we perceive different. It is a belief or attitude in our heads.

Bias is the very fundamental way we look at and encounter the world to make sense of the world around us. It is driven by the hard wiring pattern of making decisions about others based on what feels safe, familiar, likeable, valuable and competent to us without us realizing it.

Bias is an inflexible positive or negative conscious or unconscious belief about a particular category of people.

Our Bias kicks in whenever we have a perception of threat to our own survival or a threat to our physical or property safety, identity or sense of being. It is an instinct reaction as primal biological urge response that brings relief to tension (Human beings developed these instincts since the Caveman era)

Bias is the ability to distinguish “safe” from “Dangerous” which is a basic quality of our human brain to categorize and group information so our brains can make sense of them.

Why does our brain do that? At any given moment we group people, and situations into categories so we can make decisions about our world. Bias is the filter or group of filters that this multitude of information sips through. We are exposed to almost 11 million pieces of information at any one time, our brain can recognize ONLY 40 of them or so, and can focus on about 5-7 at a time.

Pre-established filters – are perceptions, assumptions, interpretations or preferences that we develop throughout our life experiences developing conscious and unconscious Bias as a result.

So where do we get our initial filters or Bias: Our first point of contact right after we are born are our parents, who expose us to their beliefs, values and cultures, then family members, schools, teachers, religious institutions and our own life experiences. If any of the above exposures has a blind spot it is transferred to us and they become our own blind spots that we in turn transfer to the next generation we come in contact with.

A blind spot is our responsibility though may be not our fault but we are accountable and responsible to recognize first that we have blind spots and to shed lights on them

Acting on Bias is NEVER positive even if based on positive content as it keeps us from seeing people as individuals for example assuming that all Asians have high income and drive BMWs.

Our unconscious Bias is our blueprint ping through life, it is important to mention that it is normal that we ALL have some degree of bias no matter how open minded we think we are.
The problem with Unconscious Bias is that unconsciously we divide the world into the world of “US” and the world of “THEM” distancing others that are different from us just because they fit into a certain category or group that exist only in our minds.

This is part one (1) of this post- in part two (2), will discuss why should we care about Unconscious Bias at the workplace and how to manage it.

Let your differences make a difference in the world

Connect with me on:
Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh
Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Consultant- Certified Social Media Strategist
Sahar Consulting, LLC

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I help corporations and organizations create/ increase their employee engagement through Diversity, Inclusion, effective communication & Cross- Cultural leadership practices that result in everyone feeling appreciated, valued and respected for who they are; elevating morale and harmony hence increasing their productivity which translates to more revenues.

Let me help you Invest in your number ONE asset: Your employees

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