Unconscious Bias – Bringing your brain into line!

Posted on September 15th, 2015 by

Female scientist

Unconscious bias, or, more aptly, the problem you don’t know you have, is a significant factor in why we have few women in some key roles traditionally associated with men.

We have multiple decisions to make each day and so much information is coming at us from all directions. We like to think we’re making considered and informed choices. The reality is that for much of the time we’re not.

This is very true when making job appointments. It’s a particular problem for women applying for traditionally male jobs. It affects men too. When you see children’s nanny do you automatically see a macho looking guy? Probably not. Which is a problem if you’re a guy looking to become a nanny, however macho you are. Our brain conjures up what it knows already and feeds us the result. Someone seeing a male name on an application form for a nanny is likely to make a quick judgement based on previous experiences and their biases and not even select them for interview.

If you’re a woman looking to progress to senior management you are at a disadvantage if everyone above you is male. This is especially true of the more male dominated industries like Tech, or engineering for example.

Such is the powerful hold of unconscious bias that even if you’re a woman in a largely male management company you are still likely to have an unconscious bias against having a female boss, because it’s not in your experience and you will have absorbed the cultural norms prevailing.

Which is why it really matters how companies advertise and recruit staff. Pictures are also important. We need to have our unconscious biases made clear to us; to see people as they are and not make snap judgements based on age, race, gender sexual orientation. We need diversity at all levels.

And by the way, it’s still bias even when it’s positive. It’s your unconscious beliefs about groups of people. Using absolutes like “All women are emotional…,” should give you a clue. Even if it’s ‘All gay men are kind’, it’s still a bias because, of course, all gay men are different and unique, like all people.

Try to become aware of your biases, even the ‘nice’ ones. Think about where they came from, those short cut beliefs. Hear your thoughts before you speak them out loud. If you’re talking in absolutes it’s probably a bias. Treat people as individuals, and with respect. It takes practice but you can do it!

Speak Up is now available in the click of a keyboard. For women who want to get ahead. More information is here.


Photo courtesy of Stock Xchange


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