Research isn’t supposed to be personal, emotional, or sentimental. But it is… because we all experience bias.
Before we move any further, let’s make sure we are all on the same page by defining some terms:
- Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.1
- Biases can be conscious (or explicit)—the person is well aware they harbor a bias, or they can be unconscious (or implicit)—the person is unaware that they harbor a specific bias.
- Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people, ideas, or things that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice, and a person’s unconscious biases are often incompatible with their conscious values.2
Biases are ingrained in us, and they are part of what makes us who we are. We need to recognize that biases are not always a negative thing. They help shape our personalities, our likes, and our dislikes. I chose to drive a black car instead of a red or white car. I can’t explain why I prefer black cars, but it is my inclination or my bias.
Unfortunately, in the world’s present climate, biases have caused a lot of hurt, pain, and discrimination that affects all of us. Particularly in our work, our inclinations toward or against specific things can have a significant impact. Thankfully, we have tools to help fight unhealthy biases to create a cohesive and nourishing environment. This is where research comes into play.
As stated at the beginning of this post, research is supposed to be unbiased. But we don’t actually have that choice, no matter how hard we try.
Academically, the extraction of bias is the best way to obtain the most accurate research. But since we cannot actually do that, the picture shifts. Now, the willingness to prove our own bias as incorrect presents the most effective research. If we are able to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective, we identify gaps within our own perspective—our bias. That is research that matters.
As you conduct your research, whether it be an audit of your own cultural biases or a confidential survey of your team to see what they really think, recognize that we’re all human beings and that our brains make mistakes. Simply taking the first step and becoming aware of unconscious bias can immediately start to reduce our reliance on generalizations or stereotypes.
No matter what you learn from it, using and applying that research can be tricky. Here are a few steps to take to help reduce bias in the workplace: 3
- Hold decision-makers accountable, including yourself. Scrutinize your diversity statement and think through whether it unintentionally screens out certain good candidates for hiring or promotion.
- Train leadership and employees with an open dialogue and awareness. Encourage the initiative to go beyond the learning phase to affinity groups (groups formed around a shared interest or common goal), mentoring programs, and constantly learning about inclusive best practices.
- Work to change culture through micro-affirmations by opening doors to opportunity, seeking inclusion, listening, giving credit to others, and offering fair and balanced feedback.
- Reward employees who engage with affinity groups and bring out the best in the culture by strengthening diversity.
- Become aware of what is preventing you from accomplishing your goals, then set up plans for how to break these barriers.
- Remind yourself frequently of the importance of recognizing bias and strive to be fair at all times.
Learning how to identify biases within yourself and your team can be difficult. That’s why we are here to help. If you need a third-party opinion, inside or outside of your business, please reach out! You can find a short introduction to our research here or here.