To be human is to have bias. Unconscious bias is a natural part of the human condition that shows up in decision-making, our reactions and our interactions with others. We all have bias in some capacity. As leaders, it’s important to recognize our biases, acknowledge them situationally, and accept them as an opportunity to grow and improve through our interactions with each other. Reducing bias in an organization will help your team be a more inclusive environment, streamline decision-making, support effective communication and team morale and strive to achieve better results.
In this article, we will discuss how to identify biases, recognize bias traps and learn methods to embrace well-being and belonging with the goal of fully inclusive work environment.
Before we get started, I encourage you to watch a three minute video produced by FranklinCovey called “All of Us.” It’s a powerful video that will set the tone for this article and provide an opportunity for self-reflection and understanding.
The first step to identifying bias is to recognize and understand our thoughts and beliefs within ourselves. This is called self-awareness, and when we focus on ourselves we are simultaneously becoming more knowledgeable about ourselves. And as we become more self-aware, we begin to reduce acting automatically and make better, more thoughtful decisions.
The primary goal in identifying bias is to bring the unconscious to the conscious so we can improve the quality of our decisions and relationships. As leaders, we must embrace empathy and focus on the individual through a transparent lens.
It’s important to dive deep into one’s thoughts and beliefs to gain a holistic understanding of each other’s points of view. Some of our beliefs can prohibit our own growth, while others can prohibit the abilities of others.
An example of identifying bias within campus recreation is when team members are offering ideas and/or suggestions to a colleague that services a different program area from their own. During the interaction, the colleague interrupts them or offers rebuttals to their ideas “based on years of experience” or “how it’s always been done.” Even though not every team member is an expert across all program areas, its vital for the health of the organization to listen intently and respectfully as it is a great opportunity to listen and understand an outsider’s point of view, potentially bringing an element not thought of before.
Recognize Bias Traps
Bias Traps are circumstances in which we are susceptible to lean into our own biased thinking. Three common bias traps are information overload, feelings over facts and need for speed.
1. Information Overload
This trap focuses on the idea that we tend to seek information supporting our existing beliefs. When we are bombarded with information, our brain filters automatically, keeping what is perceived as useful knowledge.
2. Feelings Over Facts
This is the environment in which we are talking live with someone and that enables authentic interaction, reaction, emotion, perspective and connection that are replaceable by other digital forms. Two types of bias in this trap include in-group bias and negativity bias.
- In-group bias is our tendency to favor people we like or those who are like us, while excluding those who are different. It means we consciously pick people who act like us, agree with us and possibly look like us.
- Negativity bias is when we are more powerfully affected by negative experiences than positive ones. Human instinct is to hold onto those negative ones much longer than recognizing and celebrating the positive ones.
3. Need for Speed
This trap is the idea we judge others on their actions, but we judge ourselves on the intent. We, as leaders, cut corners to act quickly, such as hiring an internal candidate for the sake of timing and/or convenience versus conducting a thorough candidate search. This way of thinking can result in snap judgements and misperceptions. A common intrinsic bias that relates to need for speed is attribution bias.
- Attribution bias is the idea we judge others on their actions, but we judge ourselves on our intent. For example, “If I make a mistake, I have a very good explanation for it and I know my intent was good. If colleagues make a mistake, they’re fundamentally flawed, disorganized, uncommitted, etc.”
One example within campus recreation of recognizing bias traps, specifically need for speed, can be as basic as rushing a student hiring decision based on a specific need in the schedule versus hiring based on cultural fit and what the candidate can add to your team. Similarly, this can be tied to professional staff hires when we seek to fulfill a vacancy with an internal hire versus going through the hiring process to identify outside candidates.
A second example for recognizing bias traps, specifically feelings over facts, is when a team member is passionate about an idea, philosophy, program, etc. and they rebuke all feedback from team members because they want their idea to be considered. This action then appears to be simply a checkbox moment and doesn’t allow for a holistic viewpoint that supports effective decision making.
Leaders create a culture through their actions and inactions, including what they say and don’t say. By proactively building a sense of belonging across the organization, they can support a shift to high performance within the team. Being able to identify when unconscious bias occurs within the team environment and creating educational learning opportunities for growth are exceptional traits to work toward.
Additionally, it’s vital to learn and recognize specific bias traps we may all be guilty of as we continue to grow into being inspirational leaders. Taking the time to make an educated and thoughtful decision versus succumbing to information overload and/or need for speed will create a winning culture of integrity, transparency, collaboration and communication, and understand that failure is growth.
EXTRA CREDIT: Here are a few strategies for using inclusive language.
Great leaders build cohesive learning opportunities across many different environments and generational gaps with team members. It’s important to be supportive yet accountability driven and to embrace being an educator versus a disciplinarian. Lead through your actions. Show the way and create that culture of inclusion. Leadership, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are connected through many important channels.
Having a keen understanding of unconscious bias and how it affects organizations from becoming great is a key ingredient for great leaders. If there is one thing to take away from this article today it’s, “Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is the act. Belonging is the outcome.”
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