We all have biases. It's a natural human ability with how we interpret and categorize information. The extent of these biases exposes our true character and integrity. We judge each other on morals, competence, and sociability, especially in the workplace. Every action is a choice and an official decision. As a decision-maker, your exercise of power should always support organizational missions, values, and ethics. Unfortunately, we are sometimes reactive, unconsciously acting on our biases, and making decisions for our companies that benefit how we feel rather than upholding the missions and values we observe.
Biases affect decision making in all industries. Bias is a preference that interferes with the ability to be objective or impartial. It is sometimes confused with stereotypes, but can also be based on one. For example, people tend to believe all Asian people are great at math. Jane interviewed an Asian woman, Sokhom, and a African American woman, Linda, for an accounting position. Even though Linda had more experience and was more qualified, Jane hired Sokhom. The stereotype caused Linda to preclude that the lesser qualified candidate was better, thus creating an unfair observation on the better candidate. We sometimes get blindsided and miss great opportunities by making irrational decisions. Unconscious bias is generalized and sometimes based off of personal experiences or traditions. Many times we think we are objective and logical, when in all actuality we haven't given the decision much thought. Our ability to simplify and make mental shortcuts can distort our thinking to make these irrational decisions.
We see a lot of gender bias in the workplace with unequal pay, positional bias, and even terminations. Keep in mind bias is closely related with prejudice and discrimination. Thus making the bias more of a threat to organizations than we conclude. As a decision maker we have to be aware of comments as well as actions that do not support organizational goals. When interviewing new candidates, we can show our bias without thinking about it, from cultural insights, inappropriate comments, and misguided hiring and firing. Some companies have even been accused of discarding certain resumes because of the ethnic-sounding names. Bias in the workplace can affect retention, engagement, customer relations, and inclusion.
Bias is preconceived, unwarranted, and unfair. As leaders, there is an obligation to support the organization and maintain the mission and values. Again, we all have biases, but when those biases begin to flaw your thinking and decision making, you must take the steps to consciously be aware and prevent clouded judgement. Here are some steps to eliminate bias.
Become aware of your bias and identify the source.
Pay attention to your reactions and feelings about certain people or things that they do. Self awareness will help you be able to research why certain things or people take precedence over others. Is it based on a stereotype? Is it based on a tradition or culture? Do you commonly have preconceived notions about people and certain behaviors?
Think about it: If someone gets arrested, what is your first thought? What did they do? Or what are they accused of?
Alter your thoughts and change your perspective.
Admitting it is always the first step. The second step is just as important. After becoming aware of your bias and the sources, remember them. Consider them in your everyday interactions and decisions. How are you feeling about this? Why are you feeling this way? Is the way that I am feeling based on facts or my own bias? Make yourself admit what you've been trying to change and create better habits.
Think about it: Why do I walk across the street when certain people are walking towards me? Because I'm afraid. What is this based on, is someone carrying a weapon? Is it because they look different?
Great success is based on relationships. We have to get to know people for who they are not who we think they are. We must become more diverse in the workplace and build a better rapport with others. Remember, we all have biases. Think about how you may be perceived by others. Open yourself to your team and have individual meetings to get to know who they are and why they think or behave the way they do.
Think about it: Tasha is an African American woman who transferred to your department from legal. Her reputation preceded her as an "angry black woman". Why did they perceive her this way? Was she angry or just a very opinionated, smart, hard worker? What are her positive attributes? What can I do to get to know her better?
Surround yourself with people who are open-minded and factual.
The key to your success as a developing leader is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals. They will be the best reminder of being open-minded and factual. Mentors are a great resource in this area. Which people in your circle challenge you? Who reminds you to be open-minded? Does this person demonstrate the type of leader I would like to be? Challenge yourself to do the work and put facts over bias.