Bring Your Bias Out of The Closet

“If you all get this right, you can set the example and be models, which can have a ripple effects in a significant way,”

Dr. Rev Bryan Marks exclaimed to USC students as the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion kicked off their “Leadership and Professional Development series” this month at the Marshall School of Business. Dr. Rev Bryan Marks was talking about a conversation that is happening now at the highest levels, from C-suites to the LAPD. A conversation that people are ready to have in a much-needed way. What do we do about unconsciously associating groups of people with traits that favor the group we belong to while disadvantaging others? Or in other words, how do we tackle implicit bias? The conversation has often been started because discrimination is still widespread, but dissipates when people realize they have biases and start to feel guilty and ashamed and hide away as to not be noticed. But students at USC were doing the opposite. They were leaning into the truth because what Dr. Rev Bryan Marks revealed is that to be biased is to be human, and they were accepting that and ready to move towards a solution. He shared, that instead of feeling guilty, we should feel empathy. 

To help us become aware of our biases, he asked, “Who do you treat better, your friends or family?” Most hands went up for friends meaning that most of us were disadvantaging family. If your hand would have gone up too, you are bias because you are giving preferential treatment to some while disadvantaging others. Does that make us bad people? No, it makes us human. Let’s take it a step further. When you think of the word President, who do you think of? White. Male. Tall. Why did you not say Hispanic short female? She could very well be a president, just as good or better as any tall white male. Now this is where we set guilt aside and tried to understand why this was happening. Most of us think this way because this is all we have ever known. With the exception of Barak Obama, all the Presidents of the US have been white males – a factor of our society and environment that we can’t control until we’re 18. Our brains are wired to be efficient, meaning that once exposed so many times to a certain stimulus, that association goes on auto-pilot and then we no longer keep thinking about it and just let the thoughts occur automatically. Now let’s bring the example closer to home. Take a look at your work team. How homogeneous or diverse are they? If they are homogenous, then you very well may have implicit biases. One of the consequences of ignoring our implicit biases is we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to have a higher performing team because as research shows, diverse teams tend to outperform non-diverse teams, ultimately effecting your bottom line.

The reason why USC kicked off their “Leadership and Professional Development series” with this topic is because the impact of our implicit biases is highly dependent on the roles we play in society. When in a higher leadership position, the greater the impact such implicit biases will have. What Dr. Rev Bryan Marks is challenging everyone to do, is to take those thoughts off auto-pilot because you may unconsciously be disadvantaging a job candidate, co-worker, or employee in the context of your role. 

Are you convinced now you may be bias and ready to do something about it? Dr. Rev Bryan Marks gives us 3 steps to address our implicit biases.

  1. Identify which biases you have
    1. Where should you start? Look at the groups that you are exposed to the most. Your biases will mostly likely be derived from these.
  2. Determine the magnitude of your biases
    1. Are you bias because of repeated exposure or because you truly believe it. How much of a ripple effect has this bias had?
  3. Determine how your biases might be disadvantaging people.
    1. Focus on the biases that are actually having a negative impact and how you can reverse that to level the playing field.

Once you have pin pointed your implicit biases you can take steps to ensure that your decisions are more considerate. For example, when possible, involve a diverse pool of people in your decision-making process so as to eliminate possible biases occurring. In addition to addressing your own implicit biases, there is an opportunity for rising leaders to request their workplace to offer implicit bias training to create a greater awareness. Although getting senior leaders on board first will help drive the momentum for the positive change.

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