We are all biased. Recognise it, set yourself free and change the World!
Bias is a very interesting, unjust, and natural human condition.
Yet, it is a symptom of the human mind – that will continue to suppress, and deny transformation and inclusion, in the world.
South Africa, and its people, still suffer terribly through bias and exclusion.
Opportunities, employment, business & workplace conflict, are often based upon whether a person is like “us’, or like “them.” Whether this is intentional, or not, there is far too much bias-based exclusion. And not enough human-based inclusion.
Unless we all, take positive personal and group actions, to move from our “natural” choices – we will still be a divided nation, a 1000 years, from today.
What is bias?
In it’s very simplest form, it happens in our families. Do you have somebody in your family who is often difficult? And do you have another, who is always there for you?
Have you noticed that when the difficult one walks into the room, you already “know” that trouble has arrived. Even when there is no problem. Even if they just brought you a delightful Lindt chocolate – they just feel like trouble. Yet, when the supportive one walks in, you will do anything for them.
In fact, you do things, for them, that you would never do for the more difficult family member. That is plain old-fashioned bias.
Challenges of bias
The challenge of bias, is that it is wrong. We think that we “know”, “these people.” And we behave accordingly. Sadly, we misjudge and mistreat people because we can never know ALL individuals. Far too many people, carelessly live by:-
Men are all the same. Woman are all the same. Well, that’s what kids are like! All young people know everything about technology. Old people know nothing. White people can’t teach diversity. Woman make tea. Men get served. Black people can’t manage anything. Politicians, lawyers, doctors… Too fat, thin, disabled, pretty, ugly, short… The list goes on, and on. Unless we have the courage to challenge our biases and perceptions.
Be totally aware, of your actions.
Ask yourself, “Was there any bias, in what I am about to do? Or have just done?”
Each time something happens as a matter of course, we need to investigate our reasons for taking that action, or accepting something that has happened.
True life examples, of gender bias.
My business partner and I, often attend meetings together. She is a highly intelligent and professional business genius. And she has over 15 years of experience in communication, diversity training, conflict resolution and leadership.
For some strange reason, the majority of our clients, will look at me (the male), for confirmation, when she speaks. They often direct their focus to me, when looking for answers.
When I notice the bias, I stop looking at the client, and turn my attention to my partner. After a while, my supposedly “male relevance”, slips from their minds and they then focus on her.
This was a way to take control, of their bias.
We need to know that gender bias, is not one-way traffic. Recently, an all-female HR team – in a major, international vehicle manufacturing company – told my partner, not to bring the men along to meetings. “It is so awesome to deal with a woman only!”
They had excluded people with different and very necessary skills sets – through their gender “preference!” This negatively impacted delivery, and team understanding of the client’s needs.
Spotting our own bias.
The difficult part, is observing our own bias. We all believe that we are fair – most of the time.
What about bias in business decisions, on team and employee selection?
The first thing to do is listen to what is said, and what actions are taken – by yourself and your management team. Is this a biased, or prejudiced leadership team?
The next and easiest thing, is to start with our own major decisions. We can then start filtering this down, to all of our people-based decisions.
When we have a choice, to employ, or promote somebody, or to include them in a project team: Ask:-
- Who did we choose on impulse? Who did we leave out?
- Why did we choose the successful person?
- Why did we not choose one of the others?
- What was our unconscious bias? What was overt and what is covert?
- Was the selection fair – or in the best long term interest of the company, and your team members?
- Is there a group actually manipulating selections based on their prejudice?
- What are the preconditions that are being put in place by the team?
- If somebody says, “they must be young, coloured, mature, male, pretty, female et cetera”, do you accept that?
- In this way bias, initiated by a person, or a group, becomes the company bias.
- This limits opportunities for others, it limits choices and is blatantly unfair.
Always ask, “Why?”
So the most important question you should use – is “Why?” And your standpoint should be, “Let’s keep this open – to everyone, we could be surprised.” And the chances are that you will be!
Courageous leaders seeking to be free of bias, will also challenge their teams to monitor each other’s actions for bias – and be brave enough to hear, accept and learn from the observations of their team.
A process for removing one’s own bias.
The easier part, once we recognize our own prejudice, is removing them. It is an ongoing never-ending project.
- Be aware of the feelings that drive your own bias. What is the underlying bias based on? Is it age, gender, race, colour, education, accent, experience, nationality, religion…?
- Understand where your program comes from. Look at your own programming. Find out why!
- Clear all pre-conditions. What are you disregarding, and who are you disadvantaging, because of your own biases. If there a team bias – put the right people in place to make the decisions.
- Think of people who match the “undesirable” stereotype – who are successful.
- Focus on what the person can offer, the skills that they bring and how they can be developed into a top level team member.
- Would you give that person a chance for an interview – based on their skills, experience and potential?
- Get together an objective, and bias-critical, employment committee. If you do not have enough diversity in your organisation – employ a multi-diverse and culturally-aware team to handle your selections.
- Create a list of objective questions and answers that will tell you if the person has what you are looking for. Ask the same questions of all candidates, and make your decision based upon the answers; the benefit to the company and the team; and the benefit to the new team member.
- Once you have made your first decision – get your employment committee – to interrogate the bias. Have we misjudged any candidate – on the normal biases. Include body language, eye-contact, space, handshakes etc. (Different cultural groups behave differently.)
10. When you are absolutely satisfied, that the selection is totally fair and bias-free, make your call.
For your team, and organization
- “The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which is based at University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa – and uses law to protect human rights, has rightly affirmed that talent and diversity are not alternatives. Diversity after all is not inconsistent with talent and ability.”
- Run diversity and inclusion training through the organization – at all levels!
- Ensure that your management team wants to be free of bias.
- Never, ever accept prejudice in words, or deeds.
- Set the fair, equitable parameters, and principles, for team and employee selections.
- Get the team to challenge their impulse decisions.
- And ensure that you all make informed decisions.
- If your people selection teams are not representative of the national demographics, co-opt people who are or utilize the services of an outside team.
- Please read our article on Transformation
Bias is sneaky and creeps up on ALL of us – when we least expect it. So, never stop watching your decisions and actions, for bias. And when you find it – take action to set yourself, and your team, free.
In so doing you will transform yourself, your family, your business, organisation, country and the World.
Brian V Moore
Co-Founder of Celebrating Humanity International
1st January, 2016
Phone: +27 79 643 4457