Making the Unconscious Conscious

| Labor & Workplace

By Amy Philbrook, head of diversity and inclusion at Fidelity Investments

As employees or managers, most of us believe that we’re unbiased, that we’re good decision makers, and that we don’t make snap judgments about people and situations based on who we are, the lives we live, and how we were raised.

Yet, in reality, our unconscious biases influence our decisions in ways we may not even notice and sometimes, can’t even control. How we react towards certain people, which aspects of a person we pay attention to, and how much we actively listen to what certain people say are all influenced by our own unconscious biases.

The question is: how do you stop yourself from falling prey to unconscious bias? The first step is simple– make the unconscious, conscious.

When making an important decision—choosing a job candidate or vendor, or even buying a car or a house—it’s worth taking a step back and making sure it’s an objective decision.

Fidelity offers training sessions on recognizing and interrupting biases for its hiring managers, which is imperative for business success. The training helps managers understand how we’re susceptible to bias when evaluating people. It also helps managers recognize and acknowledge their own biases, the negative effects of bias within their organization, and outline strategies for overcoming personal and organizational bias.

There are several types of unconscious biases that can influence one’s thinking and steps one can take to interrupt them.

  • Affinity Bias…occurs when you seek out or favor those who share your background, group membership, or experiences.
  • The Halo Effect…occurs when you allow a positive attribute to influence your overall evaluation of a person.
  • The Horns Effect…the direct opposite of the Halo Effect, when you allow a negative attribute to cloud your overall opinion about a person.
  • Conformity Bias…happens when you change your mind based on the majority. If the group is leaning one way or another, you decide to go along rather than voice your own opinions.
  • Benevolent Bias…occurs when you make assumptions about certain types of people that, at first blush, come across as care and concern. (For example, the view that women or people with disabilities are inherently in need of protection and special consideration.

So, how should employees and managers interrupt this type of thinking?

Before making a big decision, first establish your criteria.

Take a step back and figure out how to define “good” before you start evaluating candidates, or cars, or houses so that you know your decision is objective and not impacted by specific individuals or preference.

Use trusted friends, family, and colleagues as a sounding board.

If you think you might be subject to bias, consciously seek out friends, family, and colleagues who are different from you and bounce your ideas or decisions off of them. Then, be open to any critique.

Challenge your assumptions.

For example, don’t automatically assume that because someone is deaf or hard of hearing, they won’t want to go to a concert. Take a step back and challenge your assumptions about people.

Seek out opportunities to spend time with people who are different from you.

When we spend time with people who are different from us (and “different” can be interpreted in so many ways) we expand our horizons. It opens us up to the opportunity of difference.