Today's Lesson is about Bias. More specifically confronting our own bias. Confronting our personal biases can be difficult and even scary for some. As we grow up we start to gain learn notions about people, society, and ourselves. This lesson will be broken up into a very simple structure. First, we will look at Uncovering our Bias. Secondly, we will work on our bias awareness. Lastly, we discuss how to proactively confront our own biases.
To start, the term "uncovering" when used to describe our bias means to pull away from the curtain we provide ourselves. This curtain acts as a blindfold for all of the things we don't want to consciously recognize. Whether it's from self-image, conformity standards, or even social standards; we all have a curtain we put up for ourselves. This first part is about taking down that curtain and learning how to gain an awareness of yourself and what unconscious beliefs you hold.
First, we have to understand what bias is and what kinds of bias we hold personally. The Oxford Language Dictionary defines Bias as, "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair." In a less formal way, this means that we hold judgment over certain things unconsciously (or consciously depending on who we are). This judgment can come in many forms but the 5 we will cover are Gender Bias, Ageism, Beauty Bias, Confirmation Bias, and Conformity Bias.
Most bias works within the description of implicit bias which is a learned assumption, belief, or judgment that is formed in the subconscious. Implicit Bias is formed over time as we gain life experience and grow (whether negatively or positively). This is commonly present as racial stereotypes or the gender equality movement.
According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, “These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Everyone has these biases and uses them as mental shortcuts for faster information-processing.”
Let's take a look at the 5 forms of bias first is Gender Bias. For instance, both genders are forced to learn basic assumptions about the opposite gender due to our social environment. Ideally, a boy should be taught to be loyal, protect, and provide for a woman and to generally respect women. This does not happen within our imperfect society and you have men who do not meet these standards. This oftentimes makes women feel unsafe, bothered, or generally uncomfortable. As a result of men not meeting society's standards for mannerism toward Women, Women have had to adopt the unconscious bias that they must protect themselves from men, and rightly so. Both sides of this gender bias issue have completely valid points, and both of these points have led to both genders adopting generational bias that we adopt into our subconscious.
Ageism is a type of bias that refers to how we act in interactions according to the age of the participants. For instance, a good example of ageism bias would be that we should respect our elders. A negative example of Ageism bias would be seeing an old man and assuming he can't go for a jog. "Ageism affects everyone. Children as young as 4 years old become aware of their culture’s age stereotypes. From that age onwards they internalize and use these stereotypes to guide their feelings and behavior towards people of different ages. They also draw on culture’s age stereotypes to perceive and understand themselves, which can result in self-directed ageism at any age. Ageism intersects and exacerbates other forms of disadvantage including those related to sex, race, and disability." - who.int
Beauty Bias can be seen all over the world but can be seen clearly within schools. While border lining confirmative bias, beauty Bias appeals to the need to be "the prettiest" or look a specific way whether due to social experience or gender bias. Many girls in high school loved the James Charles makeup kits for two reasons, conformity, and contest. All the girls had this makeup making it a new standard. Now that everyone looks the same the goal is to look the best in making a contest. "Beauty bias, or “lookism,” is less well known, but has significant impacts on employees in a workplace. It involves the way in which people are perceived by others, as a result of their level of physical attractiveness." -FairHire
Confirmation Bias is the need to confirm our own predetermined beliefs about a given subject. There are three different types of confirmation bias which include informational bias, memory bias, and interpretation bias. This can be commonly seen when someone is very passionate about an unproven subject and then find 1 supporting piece of evidence that is solidified in their belief/decision. This type of bias is dangerous as it can quickly lead to manipulation and altered perception of reality (mild psychoses).
Confirmative Bias is displayed in many different ways, many of the biases described play a role in conformation bias. This means beauty bias, gender bias, fashion, social hierarchy, and other qualities can be singled out and glorified in an attempt to separate ourselves from others. This usually forms a trend that most people conform to whether it's a shoe brand or a haircut style. Confirmation Bias can be seen in our professional environment as we feel the need to underachieve in order to stay level with our co-workers.
The point is, whatever bias you hold whether it be racial, gender-related, or age-related. Bias holds you back! For every moment you allow yourself to hold bias and pre-judge someone or something you limit your possibility in any given situation. By assuming someone is bad based on their color, you lose the opportunity to have a great encounter with another living breather human being.
"Acknowledging your own biases presents one of the greatest challenges in self-discovery and self-understanding because it forces us to look directly at our own flaws. However, it helps us to better understand mental shortcuts that may be hurting ourselves and those around us" - uark.libguides.com
What steps do you take now? You know that you hold some kind of subconscious bias. The goal now is to acknowledge you have bias. Identify your bias, and educate yourself further on different opposing bias types. To become aware of your unconscious biases, start by educating yourself.
The key is to slow down and investigate your beliefs and assumptions so that you can see the other person for who they truly are. As a leader, it’s easy to think that you don’t have time to pause. But taking a few minutes to question yourself can make all the difference to you and your team. Here are some other questions you can reflect on:
- What core beliefs do I hold? How might these beliefs limit or enable me and my colleagues at work?
- How do I react to people from different backgrounds? Do I hold stereotypes or assumptions about a particular social group?
- As a manager, do I acknowledge and leverage differences on my team?
- How would my team describe my leadership style if they were sharing their experience of working with me with others?
- Do my words and actions actually reflect my intentions?
- Do I put myself in the shoes of the other person and empathize with their situation, even if I don’t relate to it?
When you pay attention to your answers, you’ll find patterns of thinking that will help you become aware of other biases that you may have. - hbr.org
Allow yourself to diversify your standards. BY meeting new people and challenging what you are comfortable with you to allow room for growth. Let others know what you think and allow them to challenge your assumptions and bias. When they do this listen to them really understand and take in their perspective on the matter.
In part two of Confronting Your Own Bias, we will talk about the process of changing these beliefs and things to keep in mind. Today you learned about bias and gained a little bit of awareness of your own bias. Allow yourself time to study and practice what was written today so that you can be more mindful before trying for change.