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Personal Development: Confronting your Unconscious Bias

Victoria MacLennan. 26 October 2022, 7:00 pm

I was invited to speak at an in person networking event last week. My talk was on skills and talent, flexible working and how the future of work might evolve. Many of the questions asked by the audience were on building culture in a remote working environment, establishing relationships and breaking down barriers with your colleagues. A couple of discussions reminded me of a blog I wrote years ago on Unconscious Bias. Here is an updated version of that

Get to know your own bias 

There is no neutral. There is only greater or lesser awareness of one’s bias. Phyllis Rose.

No matter how self aware we may feel — we all have biases. They are often ingrained for many years or instilled as the result of a single event. Reality is we have them and engage them influencing our decision making every day. Unconscious bias sits at the centre of many highly debated issues in our lives — gender equality, racial divides, ageism, sexual orientation, weight — to name just a few.

To get us on the same page here I suggest you watch this short clip: 

Embracing alternative perspectives leads to better outcomes

Becoming consciously aware of our own bias is half the battle, reminding ourselves consistently to consider whether we are applying a bias in decision making is harder.

In my experience our industry - like other professional services sectors - is full of highly qualified, experienced, earnest people who also often bring their bias into their mahi, into specifications and code they write, into service model design, into customer support activities and into their interactions with colleagues.  

It might sound like I am beating the same drum again but this is a huge factor in the diversity, inclusion and belonging aspects of growing our industry. I liked this summary

“When an organisation is biased against certain groups, whether consciously or unconsciously, it means that it only employs “people like us”. Not only is this bad for society, it is also bad business. Numerous studies show that diversity increases profits and produce better financial and social outcomes.

Unconscious bias within the workplace can also make employees less likely to associate with people who appear to be different from themselves, which can result in some people being left out professionally and socially in the workplace.”

Now it’s not easy to self assess on bias, you could ask your friends and colleagues what they have observed in your behaviour if you are brave. You could also leverage the test suite developed by Harvard, the Project Implicit. It takes a bit of time and commitment to complete the tests but they will give you interesting results and insight. 

It’s not easy to change your lens

As you arm yourself with personal insight into your own biases the big question is can you change your lens? Here are my tips: 

  • Become more conscious and really tune into your own thought process
  • Watch your language — are you using “guys”, “man”, “men”, any colloquial phrases that marginalise a community, referring to adults as “kids”, women as "girls"……
  • Call it out — if your colleague, friend or family member are demonstrating their own conscious or unconscious biases in decision making, call it out
  • Watch what you read — we are easily influenced by media, social commentators and others who reinforce our existing biases
  • Practice empathy — will also help you Becoming the best version of yourself

Ok so what? 

We are all stressed, our teams are depleted and we are all talking about the skills and talent shortage. Equally we aren’t attracting enough new people to join our industry to take up the slack for a range of complex reasons. One of these is we aren't the easiest or nicest industry to join, we speak in acrynoms, are often elitist and do not create a welcoming environment.

Bottom line, we as an industry need to change, and that starts with each of us individually. 

Creating a culturally safe, inclusive working environment where everyone can belong takes an effort by all of us to make some changes. This is one step you can take yourself. As you might have guessed by now I love the challenge of personal improvement. Hope you can join me. 

He Whakatauki: He aroha whakat┼Ź, he aroha puta mai. If kindness is sown, then kindness will be received. Vic

 

This is the one of a series on Personal Development. Other posts include - 

Becoming the best version of yourself

 


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