Understanding

Your Biases

By Shannon Sutherland, Director of Growth Strategies and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Table of Contents
Discovering the influence of

Unconscious Bias

“I’m not biased.”

Yes, you are. Everyone is. That is human. Let me share some of my biases.

I’m biased against Oilers fans, people who don’t like seafood, and drivers with bumper stickers.

I’m also biased against women, people with disabilities and two ethnicities that I’m too ashamed to publicly name.

That took a dark turn, didn’t it? I must be a horrible human being. If I am, then we all are, because we all have unconscious biases.

Do You Know Who You Are Discriminating Against?

If your business is serious about equity, diversity and inclusion, this is a question worth exploring for every member of your team. A few months ago, I was completely and blissfully unaware of my biases and had you asked me, I would have said, “I’m not biased.”

I have invested years of my life working with new Canadians helping them resettle and loved every minute. I am a woman. I belong to an ethnic minority (Métis). And what kind of monster is biased against people with disabilities?

As I’ve been studying equity, diversity, and inclusion, however, I came across this really eye-opening tool. Maybe some of you have heard of it. 

Don’t Guess.

Take the Test.

Harvard University’s Project Implicit was created to educate the public about both conscious and unconscious bias (implicit biases) and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet. It’s intense. It’s disarming. I encourage you to be brave and take the test.

Artist Benjamin Haydon said, “Fortunately, for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.”

My unconscious biases disgust me, and yours might too, but I believe we all need to face them head-on and do something about them.

Simple Ways To Mitigate The Risk of

Discriminatory Practices

As a recruitment agency, one of the steps we have taken is to replace names on resumes with initials to help reduce racial implicit biases. This is a great read on the topic from research out of the University of Toronto if you want to learn more about that.

There are many other ways to reduce bias as well, and you can learn about some of them here.

I also recently attended a leadership conference where author Dr. Hadiya Roderique was a keynote speaker. She captured North America’s attention with a ground-breaking piece she did for The Globe and Mail called Black on Bay Street. The story explained her experience of being a young, black, lawyer and the multitudes of microaggressions that undermined her at every turn—in addition to blatant biases as well. You can read that piece here.

Dr. Roderique is a vocal proponent of “anonymizing” resumes and provides some pretty convincing arguments for doing so.

I, however, struggle with this, as I know there are organizations and businesses out there that want to build more diverse teams. So wait a second? Is that also a bias? Yes, it is. You can be biased for and you can be biased against.

This is all getting messy, isn’t it?

What Do “They” want us to know? Let’s Listen.

I have been talking to a lot of people about these topics lately—particularly Indigenous business leaders and owners.

What I am hearing are some recurring themes including:

“Sometimes it’s not the best person who should get the job, but the right person who should get the job.”

“Don’t just give lip service to hiring for diversity. Show us the proof. I want to see ‘someone like me’ working there.”

“Hiring for diversity isn’t enough. Don’t forget inclusion. Don’t just tell me I’m welcome. Make me feel like I truly belong there.”

And in reference to historical injustices:

“It might not be your fault, but it is your problem.”

I won’t unpack all of these statements, but they are worth considering.

Understanding

The Business Case For EDI

Statistics Supporting EDI In Business

 

  • Higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders
  • Companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.
  • 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities.

A McKinsey & Co. report found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity on their executive teams were 36% more likely to have above-average profitability versus those that were in the fourth quartile

And a 2019 study by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) and Dalhousie University found 95% of senior leaders surveyed believed diversity is a business strategy that positively contributes to innovation, creativity and problem-solving. A whopping 100% believed diverse viewpoints added value to their organizations.

However, one-third did not frequently communicate about diversity and inclusion to their employees.

To Wrap Up

Conclusion

We’ve Got Work to Do

There are no illusions that these are problems that can be solved overnight. Our implicit biases are deep-rooted, entrenched and often well-hidden. But we can take positive steps forward and maybe even the occasional leap.

Taking the Implicit Bias test is a great start.

Bring those biases into the light and learn something about yourself. There’s no such thing as blissfully ignorant. When it comes to my bias against Oiler’s fans, however, I think I’m okay with it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why is it important to understand your biases?

Both conscious and unconscious biases heavily influence the way we view and interact with the world. It can be difficult to pick up on these biases, especially the unconscious ones. This leads to us letting them control how we live our lives and treat others. If we are able to understand what our implicit biases are we can then begin to understand why that might be the case, and then work towards combatting the negative effects they often have. Self-awareness is substantial in its ability to negate implicit bias effects.

What impact does bias have?

Aside from the effects bias has on our personal lives such as who we find ourselves surrounded with because of them, it can also affect our professional lives. Hidden biases can often influence different aspects of our professional lives such as the decisions we make and who we make them with, how we treat and interact with different groups of people, who’s opinions we place more value on, how we discuss performance levels of certain employees/coworkers and who we choose to hire.

Are biases good or bad?

It’s a misconception that having a bias makes you inherently a bad person but this is not the case. We ALL have our own biases and most of us don’t possess a conscious awareness of them. Not all biases are bad however not recognizing them is often what causes the negative impact that they are typically associated with.

Why do we have biases?

Biases often stem from the natural reaction our brain has to base opinions and decisions on associations with past experiences. Simply put, the brain relies on past experience to understand new things and people even if the past experience doesn’t properly represent the new person. This is also where negative stereotypes usually come from.