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Dear Managers: Bias Impacts Your Decisions—Whether You Know it or Not

Thursday, November 19, 2015
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We often think of bias as something we can easily put our finger on—it’s easy to see and easy to expose. However, no matter how hard society tries to reduce or eliminate bias, it still exists. In fact, over the years, research has shown that there is a form of bias that most people are unaware of: implicit bias.

Implicit bias has to do with our attitudes. It affects the way we understand situations, take action, and make decisions. More importantly, implicit bias refers to those factors in an unconscious manner. What does that mean?

Understanding Implicit Bias

People make assessments—favorable and unfavorable—unconsciously and involuntarily, without our awareness and any intentional control. We are completely unaware of the preferences we bring to the table and how they impact relationships and our choices. These types of biases are different from the typical biases we notice in every day society—those that we may choose to hide because of political correctness or for social acceptance.

Implicit biases are more dangerous because they are not identifiable to us, even when we try to be introspective. They are developed over time, exist in our subconscious mind, and cause us to have feelings and attitudes about people and situations that relate to issues such as race, ethnicity, age, appearance, gender, and so forth. Implicit biases are much like a plane flying under the radar. They cannot be seen or recognized by individuals and in many cases; one’s implicit biases may be different than their stated opinion.

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Impact of Implicit Bias

An implicit bias impacts everything, including healthcare, employment, education, housing, and criminal justice systems. For instance, a study by the Kirwan Institute showed that doctors provided more prescriptions to people they viewed more favorably than people they viewed less favorably. They were not even aware they were doing it.

We all like to believe that we are objective, have evolved, and thrown out past views. The truth is that the images we see on television, experiences we have at an early age, phrases and language we hear every day, and the comfort we have within our own social or professional groups have an impact on the decisions and choices we make.

Overcoming Implicit Bias

Some organizations are using blind selection approaches. An example of this is when employers remove college names and grade point averages on resumes in order to improve their hiring decisions—and not fall prey to implicit biases around specific schools or GPA. Other organizations use systems that allow them to hire people for projects without knowing their backgrounds, race, or gender, and then test them out on project work. They evaluate the candidate to determine whether they want to hire them prior based on work product prior to finding out those specific identifiers.

As we progress forward, tools like these will become more prevalent in an effort to help us reduce and eliminate implicit biases that exist within all of us. What’s more, organizations are developing new types of training that will help managers identify and unlearn biases in themselves. This training and experience will help to produce better decisions, stronger relationships, more fairness and equity in our organizations and society overall.

We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go.

About the Author

Brad Federman is the chief operating officer of F&H Solutions Group, which merged in 2013, with Federman’s performance improvement company, Performancepoint, LLC. He also is an author, speaker, and consultant with more than 22 years of corporate experience in various aspects of human resources, including performance management, employee engagement, employee compensation, executive recruiting, change management, and instructional design. His background also includes sales, marketing, product development, and operations. 

Previously, Federman was the executive vice president of Novations Group and has held leadership positions with Accenture and Humana Inc. He is a frequently requested featured speaker at conferences and business meetings worldwide. He is the author of Employee Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating Profits, Optimizing Performance, and Increasing Loyalty and a contributing author to 101 Ways to Enhance Your Career. He also has been interviewed for articles in numerous publications such as Fortune Small Business, Los Angeles Times and HR Magazine

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