Biases are Taught – Not Caught
You arrive 15 minutes late to a meeting because your last meeting ran over. As you sit down at the conference table, you notice your manager glance at her watch. Five minutes later, one of your peers who was in the same earlier meeting joins this meeting. You notice your manager doesn’t glance at her watch.
Chances are your manager isn’t even aware that she did this. It’s an example of how our unconscious biases can influence our behavior without us knowing it. That’s because we all learn social stereotypes about certain groups of people that have been formed outside of our conscious awareness. In this example, the manager glanced at her watch the first time because that person was African-American – and there’s a stereotype that “Blacks are always late.” Because there isn’t a stereotype that Whites are always late, she didn’t glance at her watch when the second individual arrived even later.
Biologically we are hardwired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests. Social psychologists call this phenomenon “social categorization” whereby we routinely and rapidly sort people into groups. This preference bypasses our normal, rational and logical thinking. As soon as we see someone, we categorize them as either ‘one of us’ or different. This simple ‘us vs. them’ distinction happens within seconds of meeting someone.
How Unconscious Biases Can Impact Work Relationships
How difficult may it have been for the African-American employee to stay focused on the conversation during that meeting? How much time did he spend debating whether or not to make a comment during the meeting (perhaps a joke would work?). Or should he casually mention it to his manager after the meeting? What if she gets defensive? It didn’t help when another peer slid her notes over to the other person who arrived late to the meeting to help him catch up to what had been discussed so far. Why didn’t anyone do that for him? He makes a mental note to ask some of his Black friends at work how they have handled this type of situation. Meanwhile, his manager may be thinking, “First he’s late to the meeting and then he doesn’t even bother to contribute anything.” Her perceptions of the situation cause her to not proactively engage him in the discussion. Something this simple can cause a relationship to begin disintegrating.
An Inclusive WorkPlace Requires Proactively Managing Unconscious Bias
Are you aware of how your unconscious biases may be affecting your decisions when it comes to hiring, development opportunities, performance evaluations or promotions?
Most of us aren’t. The risk of not proactively managing the barriers that unconscious biases create is one of the most significant factors in the inability to retain a diverse workforce. The fact is that that when organizations have managers, supervisors, and other staff members who are unaware of the extent to which unconscious bias is a part of the organization’s culture, the organization suffers in many ways that affect the bottom line.
Diversity and Inclusion Training Done Right
The first thing that needs to be done is to remove the ‘shame’ that having any biases makes us a bad person. How many times have we said or heard, “I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body?” Or said that in defense of someone else? For over 40 years, our philosophy and approach at Pope Consulting to this difficult topic is that the vast majority of us are good-hearted and well-intentioned people. As facilitators, we need to create a safe environment for everyone to become more aware of the stereotypes and unconscious biases that most of us learned at a very young age.
Our highly trained teamwork with leaders, managers, and individual contributors to provide engaging and impactful diversity and inclusion training with concepts and skills that are immediately applicable back on the job. We also provide ideas and processes to reinforce the training so that it becomes part of daily practices and behavior. This is how an inclusive culture is built and sustained over time.
Your Unconscious Bias Training Team
Our experienced instructors have a wealth of tools to start the dialogue that creates positive and lasting change. To learn more about how our training can help your organization find common-sense solutions to address these challenges and become a high-performing organization, contact us at (833) DnI-POPE (364-7673).
Look for our upcoming Inclusive Leadership Public Program coming to West Chester, Ohio. Take a look at our registration to page for more information on how to register and attend our next event.