Unconscious bias

Have you had a mid-life crisis?

You know, buying a sports car or Norton motorbike before you’re too “old” to enjoy it or having a tattoo that you were always forbidden to have as a teenager. We joke that Keith’s was less dramatic – aged 39 he decided to get an ear piercing! Not that radical or as expensive as a sports car or permanent as a tattoo, but it was a staple of his appearance for several years.

What was interesting was how people’s reactions to him changed – even those who had known him for years (including his mother in law!). Delegates on his courses would say at the end of a training day, that they were surprised to see a “booted and suited” Director with an earring – and let’s be honest, it was a simple stud….he shunned the potential flamboyant pearl drops! At the same time, the kids friends felt it highlighted he was “cooler” than they imagined.

Fundamentally he hadn’t changed his views, his beliefs or his abilities – it was a cosmetic change only.

It is a simple example of Unconscious bias.

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups.

The “gut feel” that you have when recruiting a new member of staff is a classic example of unconscious bias.

Diversity and inclusion tend to focus on the obvious discrimination – colour, sex, race, creed, physical disability – it is easier to tackle those who are showing evidence of being racist, bullying or homophobic and organisations have policies in place to rightly confront and challenge this behaviour.

But understanding how someone’s belief system impacts on their decision making process is a tougher task. If you unconsciously think everyone with a tattoo is either a sailor or a criminal, you may not share these thoughts with your nearest and dearest – never mind your colleagues – and unconsciously you may not even know it impacts your decision making process.

This was highlighted yesterday with the resignation of Greg Clark as Chairman of the Football Association, whose testimony to the Culture, Sport and Media Select Committee demonstrated the unconscious bias that exists within the hierarchy of the FA towards black, gay, and female footballers.

Opening up the conversations and having an honest, frank and informative discussion without the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, is the way forward.

Dealing with the unconscious bias can only be rooted out and effectively understand by consciously undertaking tough conversations.

Learn more about the scientific and emotional evidence for unconscious bias by Valerie Alexander – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP-cqFLS8Q4

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