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April 15, 2019

Tackling Unconscious Bias in the Workplace Requires the Courage to Lead

James Pogue, Claudia Schaeffer, Melissa Doolin-Koene and Amy Valentine at the Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) Global Best Practices Conference

The 2019 Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) Global Best Practices Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Unconscious bias stems from our tendency to categorize and make quick judgments about people and situations. This can be influenced by our background or upbringing, but ultimately is a result of our brains making shortcuts to make sense of the data we are consistently taking in.

James Pogue, Ph. D., an unconscious bias and multi-generational expert, presented The Courage to Lead at the 2019 Global Best Practices Conference. He shared with attendees five of the most common biases in the workplace: affinity bias, the halo effect, perception bias, confirmation bias and groupthink.

Affinity Bias – “I like people who are like me”

The tendency to give preference to people with similar interests is affinity bias. This can be for any reason from sharing a favorite sports team to having a similar fashion sense. Sometimes affinity bias can be mistaken for “culture fit” and can weave its way into hiring practices for an organization. When leaders select team members with similarities and those team members in turn select others like them, diversity is ultimately impacted.

The Halo Effect – “He is nice, so he is also smart”

The halo effect occurs when one characteristic or impressions impacts the overall character assessment. This type of bias can lead to several detrimental effects towards individuals and organizations and set off unfair differences in how employees are treated. For example, if someone is esteemed because of their advanced technical skills, they may not be held to the same standard in other areas. This can mask problems that likely would be addressed with other employees.

Perception Bias – The Sensory Bias

The lens we use to filter our experiences through is perception bias. What we take in impacts our impression of something and we may use this to create simplistic stereotypes about certain groups of people. This is based on sensory responses. For example, you may have had an aunt who was kind and nurturing who wore a particular perfume. When you come across anyone else wearing the same scent, you may assume they are also kind and nurturing.

Confirmation Bias – “Ha, I knew it!”

Being prone to believe what we want to believe is confirmation bias. This tends to be less about people and more toward certain facts and information. When we are acting with confirmation bias, we may accept information that confirms what we already believe and reject information that does not. This may cause us to ignore the data and pursue or limit opportunities based on their own implicit bias, thereby affecting decision-making.

Groupthink – “I agree with the consensus”

Groupthink occurs in a group setting when everyone is thinking collectively, almost as if with one mind. This can blunt creativity and negate individual responsibility, thus affecting diversity in an organization. People who are opposed to an idea or decision may decide to stay quiet when the rest of the group seems set on a particular course of action. Sometimes groupthink can have positive outcomes, leading to quicker results and efficiency, however it is damaging when the suppression of individuals opinions leads to poor decision-making and inefficient problem-solving.

The beauty of unconscious bias is just that, it is unconscious. It is hard to blame somebody for something they don’t know is happening. It’s part of our jobs, those of us further along on our diversity, inclusion and multi-generational intelligence journey, to help bring out the unconscious to the conscious.

James Pogue, Ph.D.

James Pogue - The Courage to Lead - Unconscious Bias at Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K)'s Global Best Practices

James Pogue, Ph.D., addresses attendees at the HR Pre-conference Summit at the 2019 Global Best Practices Conference

Start the Conversation about Unconscious Bias

Overcoming bias in the workplace requires courage. Talking about issues of diversity, inclusion and bias can make some of us uncomfortable. But it is necessary to face the discomfort in order to reap the benefits of a truly diverse work environment.

We must begin by recognizing that unconscious bias exists and begin opening our minds to new sources of information. Find different news sources, look for different TED Talks or find podcasts about diversity and bias. Engage colleagues with different backgrounds and learn more about their customs and traditions. Become familiar with terminology related to diversity. Understand the diversity we bring in addition to our own background.

Organizationally, look for opportunities to reinforce values around diversity with all employees. Build diverse teams, especially those that conduct interviews. Be willing to hire talented employees who don’t “fit in” because of what they might bring to the table. Beware of Applicant Tracking Systems – they typically focus on traditional career trajectories. Women, minorities and innovators often don’t follow a normal career path.

The restaurant industry is a rapidly changing environment and must continue to innovate in order to gain or maintain market share. Encouraging diversity and recognizing when bias exists will foster an environment more capable of innovating. Regardless of our individual role or position, we must have the courage to lead the conversation, first within ourselves, then to our teams and colleagues.

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