Stereotypes and biases, both positive and negative, exist in every culture, community and workplace around the globe. No matter how progressive we think we are as leaders, we are all guilty of stereotyping or operating under bias at some point or another. But as our world changes, we’re encouraged and propelled to learn ways to neutralize faulty thinking.
While we can find a long laundry list of who to blame for our positive or negative views of others—parents, society, media, etc.—it’s up to us to take full responsibility to find solutions that will create a permeable perspective for embracing others. Failing to do this is a direct act of self-sabotage because it robs you of the emotional energy you could use to thrive and survive in today’s global world and to build a high-performing team. Here are four practical actions you can take to identify and minimize your personal bias toward others.
1. Gain an understanding of what bias is and accept that it is a natural byproduct of being a human. The Cambridge dictionary defines bias as, “an unfair personal opinion that influences your judgment.”
Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of your biases and avoid trying to put others down because of theirs. There are many forms of bias that are shaped by our experiences, memories and time constraints. The more bias is openly discussed, the easier it will be to recognize it and make a conscious decision to remedy it.
2. Learn about the different types of bias and how they are formed in order to effectively manage them. In the article, Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet, author Buster Benson studied a raw list of 175 biases and determined that there are four general problems that propel our brains to use bias. It happens when we are rushed, when we don’t have enough information to make a decision, when situations are difficult and challenging, and when there is information overload.
Each of these situations affects and influences our decision-making abilities. For example, a recruiter may have little time to fill an open vacancy while simultaneously feeling inundated with several applications. In this instance, time is an issue, as well as information. The safest, most comfortable decision path to follow in a situation like this leads the recruiter to go with what is familiar and choose a candidate who may have had a similar work history.
When there is little time or too much information, our brains will try to solve a problem based on past experiences and not based on intentional analysis. We are required to notice our own biases more often in order to lead ourselves to a better understanding. When we understand ourselves better, we are able to understand and relate to others in more productive ways.
3. Perform a self-examination.
- Ask family, friends, colleagues and staff (formally or informally) where biases show up in your decision-making. You can use a 180- or 360-degree assessment.
- Take an Implicit Associations Test. This five-minute test was designed to cut through the perceptions of your own biases on gender, religion, race, sexuality and more. Seventy-five percent of people who have taken the race IAT show biases.
- Pay attention to how you feel when certain situations do not go as planned. Do you immediately point out the reason because of the person’s appearance or origin?
In an organization, performing self-examinations could include identifying entry points for bias. For example, start by observing how people are hired, how tasks are assigned and what occurs during performance evaluations. You can also examine how compensation is determined—can you see where bias has the opportunity to influence each process?
Introduce policies to remove information that can lead to bias. For example: ‘Name blind’ and ‘gender blind’ policies can prevent applicants from experiencing bias based on their ethnicity, religion or gender. A well-designed application form that focuses on objective factors will also minimize the risk of unconscious bias. Additionally, ensure the interview panel is diverse as people are more inclined to hire people who look like them.
4. Intentionally integrate ways to challenge, mitigate and step outside of your biases. Being aware of your individual biases and those of others is a vital part of enhancing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Proactively seek new experiences to discover more about yourself and your reactions to unfamiliar situations. This could include experiences outside of your cultural norms, such as a visit to a well-reviewed restaurant, a stay at a well-reviewed hotel, or attendance at a commonly celebrated event or function.
Remember, everyone has bias; you are no exception. The sooner you acknowledge and embrace this, the easier it will be to expand your perspective and become more effective as a leader. You’ll experience greater mental stamina, heightened self-awareness, an ability to thrive better under pressure and ultimately improved productivity for your organization.