Raising your awareness of your unconscious biases

Recently Nella (one of the Directors at Greenfields) had an interesting insight regarding her beliefs. In this post, Nella talks about raising your awareness of your unconscious biases.

Within one week, two events occurred that made me question my beliefs. Firstly, I heard an ad on the radio with the opening statement “Picture a footballer.” This was followed by the question, “Did you picture a male?” My answer was “Yes.” The ad was promoting women’s soccer, pointing out that to achieve greatness, we need to think differently. In the same week, I listened to a Ted Talk which started with a visioning exercise. “Close your eyes and picture yourself seated next to a couple happily celebrating their anniversary and the next morning you are attending a conference listening to a CIO from a global tech company.” The speaker then asked the question, “In your vision, was the couple heterosexual? Was the CIO male?” Got me again! My answer was “Yes” to both.

This got me thinking and I became concerned that my unconscious biases are so engrained that I cannot change them. So I started to research ways to ‘remove my unconscious biases.’

Most people are committed to being fair, however studies show ‘people can deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden negative prejudices or stereotypes.’ Unconscious bias is described as ‘learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained within our beliefs, universal, and have the ability to affect our behaviour.’ It is common place for people to make choices influenced by automatic unconscious stereotypes, hence the missed opportunity of seeing the world differently.

I consider myself an open minded person and yet when tested, my unconscious biases were highlighted. So how can I make a change?

Step one is to become aware of your own biases.  Stop and check yourself to see if your decisions or behaviours are based on preconceived ideas. Ask yourself “Where do they come from? How do they influence your actions? What can I do about them?” The following videos can help with these questions:

The good news is – unconscious biases do go away! In addition to being aware, it is also important to speak up and constructively identify the behaviour. If we don’t, change will not occur.

Another useful tip I picked up in my searches was to ‘flip scenarios and expect the unexpected,’ i.e. continuously challenge the brain and what it is familiar with.


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