It is inevitable that professionals and leaders will fall into the unconscious biases that are perpetuated by the society in which they are living. At this point in time, it is impossible to imagine a world without these biases. As the diversity and inclusion strategist, Alden E. Habacon, explains, even “good people still have biases.” However, it is possible to imagine a world where we work to acknowledge them head on and through that can begin to undo them. By working to undo them we will be taking steps in the right direction to create a world and workforce that is more inclusive and diverse. It is a step toward acknowledging and embracing differences in identities between employees, as well as how we can embrace those different identities as strengths.
Unconscious bias is most commonly defined as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their conscious awareness.” They are often thought of as being less visible yet more prevalent that prejudice and conscious biases. They include discrimination and stereotypic of several identities that society has formed particularly negative views about, including those from racial, gender, ethnic, or any other minority groups. Unconscious biases inform the way we act, even when we are not thinking about them purposely or particularly.
These types of biases, although not often maliciously intended, still have a significant impact on the workplace and who ascends into leadership roles. The enactment of these biases inform statistics of inequality, such as the gender wage gap, and have a role in explaining the disparity between incomes and leadership roles in people from different identifying groups.
These types of biases, although not as explicit as more intentional prejudices, can still be noticed and called out with proper attention and understanding. Encouraging employees to attend workshops that increase understanding of unconscious biases and how to identify them can have a drastic impact on the dynamics of the workplace. It can teach you not only to identify and eliminate the negative aspects of these biases, but to embrace and optimize on diversity and the different viewpoints that a diverse workforce lends.
However, the most effective thing we can do to undo these biases is to understand how they function within ourselves. These biases inform the way that we view and interact with those around us on a social and professional level, and inform how we view ourselves. For instance, as I had mentioned in my previous article, men and women are associated with opposing leadership traits in the workplace. We project different expectations onto male and female leaders based on the characteristics which society specifically associates and projects onto them. By understanding that a good leader is a product of both masculine and feminine attributes, and can transcend the gendered traits imposed on them by society. We must disconnect the traits with the individuals, and then rebuild them on the basis of individual economy and characterization, instead of on the basis of societally imposed identity.
By accepting this sort of fluidity–that those from identities considered opposing, men and women, for example, are not actually opposing–we can begin to overcome the boxes that those place leaders and workers in. The idea that roles are imposed and enforced by identity is an antiquated concept and one that must be shattered if we are to move forward in a world where those of all races, genders, and identities are granted equal opportunity in the workplace, harnessing the power of diversity and building inclusive cultures, in a world that is constantly growing complex, and globally interconnected, is becoming one of the main driving forces to any organization that strives to foster innovation and thrive in the future.