When Noone Understands You – Unconscious Bias

Ever been in a situation where you think you’re being clear but it’s landing on “deaf ears?” And, in this age of speed, do you find you yourself are making snap judgments? Face it. We all do this. It’s survival or, at least, a way to save time and not to have to reinvent the wheel every time we’re faced with a similar situation.  But, what happens when we’re not even conscious of our bias?overcoming unconscious bias

Here’s a statistic.

A black person needs to have nearly eight more years of experience than a similarly experienced white applicant to have the same odds of getting a job. This finding was the result of a University of Chicago/MIT study of resumes and the response they got for job interviews.  It was quoted in the fascinating book by Heidi Grant Halvorson No One Understands You and What To Do About It.

What’s more surprising from this example and so many in the book, is the lack of awareness many of us have to our own bias based on race, sex, nationality, age, etc. Often, we’re not even conscious that we’re making an assumption, which is really tragic. In fact, Halverson wrote that the hiring managers in the study didn’t knowingly discriminate:

“Did they think to themselves, I’d prefer not to hire someone black? It’s tempting to think so – particularly when you are on the receiving end of this discrimination. But the research suggests that in fact, the vast majority of these screeners had no idea that negative stereotypes about blacks –  ones the screeners may not even believe – were creeping into their …perception and skewing their assessments of the applicants. Biases often act in very subtle ways, altering the way we interpret information without our realizing it.”

So, what do you do about this?  First, just knowing that we have biases is important. Halverson suggests we look for context. Some examples would be… why did a person have three different jobs in two years? Was it a lack of commitment (are we assuming a different answer based on race or sex?) or were they gaining more skills and experience? We’ll write more details later in this blog.

Meanwhile, if you want to sensitize your managers or employees to their bias, here are some great video trainings:

Helen Whelan


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