We’re all biased—even nice people like you.

October 18, 2016 | Dialogue, Diversity & Inclusion, Employee Engagement, Overcoming Bias

I am so happy to see President Obama issuing a memorandum requiring more focus on promoting diversity in agencies involving defense, intelligence, diplomacy and homeland protection! Now national security agency managers must increase inclusiveness reporting and work to bring in more women and minorities on all job levels.

On top of that, the president ordered mandatory implicit bias training for senior and leadership positions in the national security agencies as well as for people in outreach, recruitment, hiring, career development, promotion and security clearance decisions.

Just what is implicit bias you ask? It’s an unconscious mechanism your brain uses to make countless decisions each day. It can be as innocent as choosing what salad you’ll have for lunch. It only becomes a problem when you start using it to judge someone based on assumptions rather than facts.

“I’m not biased!” you might say. But we’re all biased — even nice people like you!

It’s how we’re wired. As humans we have a tendency to prefer some things and people more than others. We use it without thinking when making rapid choices. It’s our human tendency to prefer some things and people over others.

It’s important to learn about bias so that we can be intentional instead of mistrusting people who are different from us.

Have you ever been in a strange city, walking down a virtually deserted street and crossed that street so you wouldn’t have to walk by a homeless person? That’s a perfect example of implicit bias at work. You have no idea if that person would pose any danger to you, but you felt a high enough level of discomfort that you moved away from the stranger.

Now take that to the level of needing to build a good relationship with someone at work who is different from you.

In our new book, coming out November 1, Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences, Matthew Freeman and I show you how to recognize your bias so that it doesn’t inadvertently let you push people away. Just think of it as a bad habit — one you are ready to lose.

How can you start recognizing bias in its negative form?

Try the book’s Job Association activity. List several jobs such as: used car sales person, politician, teacher, lawyer and doctor. Now next to each one write down a word or phrase that immediately comes to mind about each job.

You might be surprised how many stereotypes show up. That also might be the case if you expand your list to include racial, gender, ethnic or sexual orientation groups.

Certainly stereotypes can lead to bias if you believe them. While we may know women who are very nurturing, that doesn’t mean all women are. Recognizing stereotypes you believe is the first step to overcoming them.

Call to action

For the next 24 hours see if you can identify bias in perspectives you see and hear in the media. Remember, you are the solution. You are not the problem.