Are we being negatively bias towards bias?
After I recently read an article from Facebook sharing their global training programme on combating unconscious bias, my initial thoughts were ‘are we being negatively biased towards bias!?’. After all, biases are absolutely essential to human beings as they help us make sense of our world and enable us to process information by filtering and categorising. Just think of all the information that we experience in our everyday lives -without biases we would never make a decision! Sometimes it is who we are. Research has shown that our biases are built from the values and beliefs that we build from our family, socio-economic background and experiences.
Our unconscious bias lead us to make certain assumptions and interpretations about people, which as a survival instinct is very handy to have. However, there are of course negative sides to our unconscious bias in the context of how we relate to others, especially when it clouds our judgement and makes us prejudiced. Where this can do more harm than good is in business where tough decisions need to be made; for example when recruiting and promoting people from within our organisations. This is one of the reasons why there are diversity challenges in today’s world of work, one major inequality issue being that still only 20.7% of women are on boards in FTSE 100 companies.
What skills, knowledge and potential are we missing out on if these biases are at play and fully in the unconscious camp? The first step to overcome biases is to be aware of them in the first place and to consider them as part of the decision making process. We also need to be aware of the different cognitive biases that exist in everyday life if we are to rationalise our thinking. One example of this is. confirmation bias where we look for confirmation for what we already believe. Another is the ‘halo and horns effect’ where one element could cloud judgement into thinking everything about a certain individual is good or the flip side bad.
We are making great strides in overcoming biases and most organisations today will have a ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ department. Even TV shows such as The Voice bring in prevention strategies. L&D can play a key role here just like they do with Facebook in helping managers to reflect on their unconscious bias, by making them aware of what biases exist and consequently how some of their decisions may be affected. They can also help by equipping managers with the right tools in the right situation e.g. recruitment process.
It’s worth remembering that we are never going to be without bias in our everyday life, but in business let’s try and open up our conscious biases so we can grow our organisations for the future with a diverse and motivated workforce.