Be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias
When discussing unconscious bias normalise it, we all have biases. Here are the steps on how to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias
One of the most important things to do when discussing unconscious bias is to normalise it. We all have biases. There is no getting away from that so we have to stop suggesting that biases can be eliminated. They are an integral part of who we are so they can only be managed.
Unconscious biases are social beliefs and assumptions about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. This can be around race, gender, religion, appearance, age, religion, skin colour, nationality, and physical ability to name but a few. We absorb and learn from both our families, schools, cultural groups, and work colleagues. Biases are a shortcut and a way of organising our thoughts so we can make rapid decisions. This is helpful when we are stressed, angry, or frightened. They are designed to keep us feeling safe and secure.
They are a cognitive security blanket but sadly they interfere with rational decision-making. It’s important to acknowledge this and create a system for constructive communication on the topic.
Here are the steps involved to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias.
STEP 1. S = SELF- AWARENESS
One of the most important elements is to cultivate self-awareness.
- Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test
- Understand your own blind spots
- Recognize your own triggers
STEP 2. U = UNDERSTAND
Learn what biases are, the role in our lives and that they can only be managed not eliminated
STEP 3. R = RECOGNISE
- Recognise unconscious biases when you see them.
- Be able to name them. There are more than 150 biases in total. They are complex and overlapping
- This fosters neutrality and creates an atmosphere where people feel comfortable calling them out. This way no one feels blamed or that they have done something “bad. ” Say “That seems to be a bias” rather than “You are biased”
STEP 4. E= EXPEDITE
It’s important that you expedite whenever you can to mitigate the impact.
- Take quick action as a bystander or an ally
- Suggest systemic changes to introduce nudges and disrupters in your processes
- Share your PERSONAL experiences of being a target and perpetrator.
- Initiate non-confrontational discussions either at the time or later.
I am a big fan of team charters where a process is created to deal with sensitive situations. This means that everyone is on the same page. Kim Scott and Trier Bryant quote an executive using the phrase “I’m going to throw a flag” as a shortcut for letting everyone know that they had spotted a bias. Another simply says “Yo”
It doesn’t matter what the disruption process is called, as long as everyone involved understands the meaning of the language and the short-cut.
Ongoing and intentional
Unconscious bias management requires three elements:
- Leadership commitment
- Systemic change
- Change to individual behaviour
Some organisations want to build awareness in “once and done” training programmes, the shorter the better (“can’t you make it one hour?”) thinking that is the “fix.” This is setting themselves up for failure. Research suggests that this type of approach creates even more damage.
This is a process that is ongoing and intentional. It’s never complete.
“You can’t go on a walk once to train for a marathon”
We all need to be S.U.R.E about unconscious bias