I’M BIASED, AND SO ARE YOU
DIVERSITY SPECIALIST SASHA SCOTT EXPLAINS WHY WE NEED TO TACKLE BIAS AT WORK – AND HOW CHOCOLATE CAN HELP
Why our unconscious prejudices are bad for business
When you think of a bias, what do you immediately associate it with? Prejudice, discrimination, ignorance? Those adjectives are predominately negative. We see bias through a window – it’s over there – it’s not here. It’s not how we behave.
Wrong. If you are human then you are biased, and that’s a fact. But that’s not always a bad thing. Bias is actually useful in many situations and without these biases we wouldn’t be able to function. Bias is there to protect us and keep us safe. In fact, we all have at least 150 cognitive biases (according to Daniel Khaneman’s book, Thinking Fast And Slow) but bias is something we observe in other people, not in ourselves, and we struggle to accept we are so riddled with bias because we feel ashamed to admit we may be prejudiced and irrational. I personally have multiple biases – and I help people reduce bias for a living. No, the irony isn’t lost on me!
As LGBT people, we know that some elements in society show bias towards us. And despite huge advancements in the UK in terms of legislation, and hearts and minds, we still experience bias in many areas of our lives. For example, in the three months after the EU Referendum last year, LGBT hate crime charity Galop noted a 147% rise in incidents reported to them.
But did you know, your own biases can work against you?
The fact is, our biases may conflict with our values. Look at transphobia and biphobia – these are biases that exist within the LGBT community. We even have biases about ourselves. I’m ashamed to admit it, as an out lesbian, but I hold judgements about other lesbians who do not fit into my group. Or maybe, looking at it another way, I feel I don’t fit into their group? It’s entirely possible to be biased against oneself. I didn’t come out until my 40s – that’s a long history of denial – and during that time I built walls of bias about what being gay meant and looked like. Now here I am; out, proud and exceptionally happy. Only through experience and exposure have I dismantled the bias bricks that built my wall.
WHICH BIAS IS YOURS?
One of the main biases that humans have is an “affinity bias”. I prefer to call it a “people like me preference”. From an evolutionary perspective, we are conditioned to feel safer with people we can identify with. It’s very tribal and it makes perfect sense. If I emerge from my cave and I see someone rushing towards me who is not in my tribe, my initial emotional reaction will be to fight or flee. I simply don’t have the time to wait and see if I am wrong – I could be dead!
There is an old, yet strikingly relevant, brain teaser: a father and his son are in a car accident. The father is killed and the son is seriously injured. The son is taken to the hospital where the surgeon says, “I cannot operate, because this boy is my son”. Figures suggest up to 75% of all people cannot solve the puzzle, and it takes most several minutes to adjust their thinking: the boy’s mother is the surgeon. Or perhaps, the parents are gay. But instinctively we match surgeon with male, and so it takes time for our brains to unlearn this fast automatic matching.
But unlearn we must because bias can create serious problems in the workplace. In-group favouritism and the “like me preference” manifests in managers making poor hires and internal work cultures splintering rather than teaming. Inclusion and bias are not good bedfellows.
Confirmation bias is when you make up your mind about someone or something – and subconsciously find “evidence” for why you are right. The issue is the “evidence” – it may not be objective and could well have come from someone in your “in” group.
In-group/out-group bias is another to be aware of. The in-group are those people we trust, the people we see as individuals. We tend to overrate their competency and forgive these individuals more. We are more likely to accept something without questioning it if the information comes from our “in” group.
Research illustrates just how farreaching our preferences are: 67% of the British public admits to feeling uncomfortable talking to a disabled person; 45% of British employers admitted they would be less likely to hire an interviewee who they termed obese; job-seekers who list LGBT volunteering on their CVS are 5% less likely to get an interview; and 80% of employers admit to making decisions based upon regional accents. The UK accents that could cost you a job are Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and cockney (east London).
Some of these prejudices may sound ridiculous to you, others less so, if you’re honest. But imagine the potential loss to your business or organisation if bias is allowed free rein. It’s time we all owned up and gave our bias some thought.
Bias results in managers making poor hires and internal work cultures splintering