A Primer on Implicit Bias–a Student’s Perspective

Author’s note:  Recently, my daughter Ellen spent 3 days learning about the working world and exploring career options.  Her high school allows its students time off to do this; to help them as they explore their “next steps.”  Even better, Centennial’s CEO and President allowed Ellie to spend the day with me learning about executive search and talent strategy consulting.  (Thank you, Mike Sipple Sr. and Mike Sipple Jr.!)

During her time here at Centennial, we were deep in discussions with our Talent Magnet Institute faculty on diversity, inclusion, and bias–specifically, the effect these three things have on organizational growth.  Observing this discussion left Ellie with more questions than answers, especially when it came to the term “implicit bias.”  As any mom would do, I encouraged her to research it. Then I suggested she write a report (I am laughing thinking back on her reaction!)  I liked her report so much (I am her mom),  I was delighted when I received the “all clear” to put it on our blog.  So, what follows below is Ellie’s report on implicit bias. In the end, she found authoring it quite helpful in gaining understanding. It has subsequently led to several additional, dinner-time discussions.  Let us help you start the discussion at your organization–or dinner table. — CL

What is Implicit Bias?

by Ellen Lewis, high school “rising” senior

The subconscious influences many decisions and actions within the day. The subconscious synthesizes with bias, creating judgment. This judgement is reflected in life and in the workplace, affecting many aspects of situations.

What is implicit bias?

Part of Ellen’s day at Centennial included recording a Talent Magnet Institute podcast with me and our marketing manager Janelle Spence.

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is subconscious prejudice or favor for or against a person, group or idea. Implicit bias results from the brain’s inability to process every single decision made in a day.  To aid in decision-making, the brain makes snap judgments based on background and experience that are subjective and one-sided. Implicit bias is reflected in everything from the choice of paint color in a house to the car one drives to the employment or promotion of a person. Bias, an instinct, impacts daily life, work and relationships.

Why does it matter, specifically in the marketplace?

Implicit bias has a significant impact in the workplace. Implicit bias inhibits you from considering other perspectives and aspects of a situation or person. As a result of implicit bias, some employees in the workplace are at either an advantage or a disadvantage.

Multiple perspectives in the workplace are a key component of success. Being able to consider multiple facets of a situation leads to the best possible outcome of an issue. Thus, collaboration with diverse, different employees is fundamental to organizational success. The “texture” of a workplace, including a variety of employees, ensures no stone is left unturned. A lack of perspective in the workplace creates a barrier to innovation, progression, inclusion and performance. Implicit bias can be the source of imbalance, inadvertently directing a workplace down a biased, one-sided path.

Addressing Implicit Bias

The most difficult part of implicit bias is it’s unconscious. However, there are ways to identify and address it– both for yourself and the workplace.

  1. Be educated on personal bias, as well as others’.

Addressing implicit bias begins with the recognition that it exists.  By recognizing the existence of bias and identifying the aspects pertaining to yourself,  you can understand how it influences decisions in and out of the workplace.

The personal understanding of bias is necessary to connecting it to other things. In a non-evaluative, nondiscriminatory way, understand that peers and colleagues all possess subconscious bias that may inhibit them from considering certain situations.  See bias in others not as a detriment, but as a reason for collaboration.

  1. Grow diversity within the workplace.

In context of the workplace, growing and expanding diversity within it helps overcome implicit bias. By having employees of different genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, orientations, income levels and experiences, more background and experience is brought to the table, and more perspectives are able to be recognized.

In terms of personally, being open to those of different backgrounds and experiences can help overcome implicit bias.  The consideration of more points of view other than your own is integral in addressing bias.

  1. Think critically, challenging assumptions and opinions.

Thinking critically can aid significantly in combating implicit bias. Thinking critically allows you to identify when specifically their implicit bias is influencing them, and allow them to eliminate its interplay in decision-making.

Thinking critically as a group is just as important. Voicing opinions, assumptions and concerns in developing a plan or idea in the workplace allows all personal biases to be heard. Not sharing opinions and assumptions only contributes to the manifestation of implicit bias. Open communication allows for the challenging and combat of implicit bias.

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