A friend of mine recently posted a very personal story of his pain at the discovery of his own implicit bias despite having married a woman of color. The Implicit Bias Test is something you can take if you want to explore bias in yourself. I was touched by his admission but it made me realize that people still have a lot of unnecessary guilt about bias. I wanted to write about it because I realize so many probably suffer shame on this front.
Dr. Heidi Grant, a psychologist who presented to our Women’s Leadership annual conference last August, explained to us that bias is human. It is a part of our brains that is wired for us to be able to make decisions quickly and have shortcuts to protect our safety. So to feel guilty about it not necessary. Neuroscience has showed that there is a biological basis for bias.
So the idea that we can somehow get rid of bias is not practical. What we need to do is develop awareness of the biases that we have, so we can take action making decisions more fairly. One method that worked for orchestras, that traditionally hired men due to implicit bias, was to put up a screen so that the performer could not be seen during the audition. This played a role in getting many more women into competitive orchestras.
As a manager, one way to reduce bias is in hiring from a pool of candidates, and have only one candidate of a diverse origin, and say three other candidates you are interviewing, you are very unlikely to hire the diverse candidate. If you have just one other person of that minority (be in gender, race, etc) the likelihood that you will give everyone a fair shot increases substantially. Another way to reduce bias is to have a structured list of questions, and to ask the same questions to all candidates.
A number of studies have shown us how diversity drives innovation. And innovation is what drives economic growth. From a perspective of someone who has lost their job due to increased automation, that may not provide much comfort. Indeed, part of our problem is that our “free market” rewards the innovators much more than workers. That unfortunately leads to further polarization of resources, and exacerbates the distance between “haves” and have-nots” in our country.
While there is a systemic good arising from a more diverse society, recognized at many levels of corporate and government leadership (though not by the U.S. President, unfortunately), there are challenges as well. In order to address these challenges, we are required to evolve our own consciousness, as humans, to be able to fully use all the talents and capabilities we have. This is no easy task.
I often worry if the behavior in this country will degrade substantially while we have rhetoric that devalues whole categories or nations of people. We have seen some evidence that this may be true. But it also forces us to have some honest discussions about our future, and about what kind of society we want to build. I am reminded that a majority of the country does not agree with the President, and is working for positive change.
I am reminded that those of us who have privilege in this very digital economy need to pay attention to the people who have been left out since the 1980’s when the gap in the middle class began to widen substantially. We have many examples in history when this has led to disaster. This has led to scapegoating and devaluation of human life at many points in human history.
This awareness and consciousness of bias and privilege must be at the forefront of our thinking about solutions to this “great divide.” We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many people, and build ourselves into little cul-de-sacs of isolated individuals and families. Our well-being depends on a social fabric which must hold us together.
We must talk with people with whom we do not agree, learn from them, strive to understand their perspectives. I believe this is the only way to repair the rifts that have grown in our political life. We cannot afford to remain in our little echo chambers, in dialogue only with people with whom we agree.
I am beginning to look for those opportunities to engage with people that may hold different opinions from mine. Not just online, but in person and face to face. They are not easy to find, but I am fairly certain our survival as a species on this earth depends on realizing we are in this together.