When you visualize an engineer, what does that person look like? How about the CEO of a bank? A nurse?
Whether you know it or not, whether you want to admit it or not, your brain has created a visual of that person. It is part of your unconscious bias.
“All humans have unconscious bias … No exceptions. We are unaware of it,” said Shakil Choudhury, author of Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them.
An unconscious bias is a hidden or unintentional preference that usually has something do with our group identity — like our race, culture, or location — and it runs deep.
The human brain takes in millions of pieces of information a second but only processes a handful. As our brain categorizes information and filters out the noise, it creates shortcuts, or unconscious bias. These shortcuts lead to assumptions that are hidden even from ourselves.
Choudhury says unconscious bias is behind a lack of diversity in leadership positions in the workplaces due to “cultural cloning.”
“Our tendency is to promote those who are most like the decision makers, like the people who have always been here,” said Choudhury. “Unconsciously we are drawn to people who talk like us, joke around like us, whose kids are part of the same hockey teams as us. Those are our in-group biases.”
Unconscious bias is also a factor in determining who gets hired in the first place, says Choudhury.
“We know from research that those who have a white-, Anglo-white-sounding name have a higher chance for a call back for an interview.”
Choudhury is the co-founder of Anima Leadership, where he helps leaders improve their diversity outcomes in the workplace. He says unconscious bias is also part of the reason society feels so divided right now and why hate crimes are on the rise.
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“Unconscious bias is one of the key factors in racism, sexism and homophobia,” said Choudhury.
He says right now is a call to action for “bridge builders” and is working on creating “rapid response” teams to help leaders and government handle challenges during these times of division and racial tension.
As for us as individuals, Choudhury says we all have a part to play in building bridges and can start by looking for our own contradictions.
“The places where you hesitate or are more nervous. Where you are more empathetic to particular types of people? Who are you willing to go the extra mile towards?” says Choudhury.
Then ask yourself who aren’t you willing to do that for and why.