Checklist for Recognizing Personal Bias

Monday, May 7, 2018 | Posted by: Alpha Kappa Psi

Unconscious bias is an internal process that naturally occurs in our brains, and everyone experiences it no matter their background. These unconscious tendencies to make judgments and have preferences are often developed early. We express and hold these opinions so subconsciously, it’s difficult to recognize or acknowledge them as being subjective, not facts. However, if we are open about our perspective being flawed, we can prevent our biases from making decisions for us. In that effort, here’s a checklist to begin recognizing unconscious bias in your daily actions and challenge yourself to promote inclusive behaviors.

Step One: Learn to Spot Bias

There are as many ways to be biased as there are people. However, bias does follow certain trends, and manifests socially in specific ways. Here are four of the most common workplace biases, according to the Society for Human Resource Management:

  • Affinity and In-Group Bias: Preferring those most like you and viewing them more positively than those who differ from you
  • Perception Bias: Making assumptions and stereotypes about groups of people, preventing objective decisions
  • Confirmation Bias: Seeking information that confirms assumptions and stereotypes and discounting information that opposes those views
  • Group Think: Mimicking behavior or holding back your views to avoid exclusion in order to fit-in best with a group

Step Two Test Yourself To Identify Biases

Project Implicit’s “Social Attitudes” test was designed by a team of psychologists from Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington to measure unconscious biases in behavior. They found that 70% or more of biases are directed at blacks, the elderly, the disabled, and the overweight.

Online quizzes like this one exist to help you discover what your personal biases are. If you think you don’t have any, we challenge you even harder to take the test. As the saying goes, “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” In this case the problem is a bias or, more accurately, unknown biases. You can’t challenge yourself to work through a personal bias if you don’t even know what ones you permit yourself to hold. For example, many people claim not to hold biases, but will laugh at a joke that relies on a stereotype or negative judgment. Whether we like it or not, in that moment and others like it, we are complicit in a negative act and letting our biases compromise our character.

Step Three: Admit Your Bias

Once you know some of the unconscious biases you hold, you might begin to see them in action. Noticing when your bias takes over is a signal to pinpoint the excuses you make to yourself to reinforce those beliefs. For example, in 2014 Google put themselves on public blast when they acknowledged both gender and racial bias within their company. 79% of their leadership was white males, while only 17% of their technical employees were women, and only 2% of their employees overall were black.

Did the leaders at Google get together every single day and conspire to limit the opportunities for marginalized groups in their company? No. Their white male founders simply followed the habits and biases they were raised with, and only in a moment of reflection did they see how skewed the environment they created really was.

"Our research shows people who initiate honest, frank and respectful dialogue build understanding and cultures of respect," said bias researcher David Maxfield in a news release. "These are the kinds of cultures that promote rather than erode performance and engagement."

Don’t beat yourself up too much about having bias in you—in this case, guilt is a wasted emotion. Instead, like Google, find your excuses and crush them with dialogue and action. It would be easy for Google to throw up their hands and say, “Black people and women don’t earn enough tech degrees for us to hire more of them.” Instead, they’ve given more than $40 million to groups working to connect these communities with better education opportunities, and they’re making slow-but-steady internal progress to include more diverse talent in their operations.

Step Four: Explore the Bias, Fight the Bias

Overall, no matter how you recognize your bias, it’s most important to challenge yourself on these views or habits. This is a step that is never quite over, and it’s rarely limited to just you. After all, we’re talking about something you learned from your environment. If the environment keeps sending those signals, it takes conscious effort to respond to them differently. It also means you need to try to improve your environment.

For instance, after they made diversity stats public, Google learned that other huge tech companies like Apple and Microsoft have the same problem, but were just pretending it didn’t exist. Google reacted by spending an additional S150 million to increase diversity in their sector overall.

 It can take time and patience, but the result of looking your biases in the face and managing them is worth it. Left unchecked, biases both conscious and unconscious will continue to keep marginalized communities on the sidelines and rob those who hold the biases of growth and development. On a professional level, bias will smother a work environment: in a study conducted by David Maxfield and colleague Judith Honesty, 66 percent of survey participants who experienced biased treatment said it had a large impact on their morale, motivation, commitment, and desire to advance in the organization. 

"We catalogued hundreds of moments when victims were left questioning others' intentions and their own perceptions. At best, this shadowy bias is exhausting. At worst, it's soul-destroying to both the individual and the organization,” said Honesty in a news release.

Actions based on bias are not based in fact. We hope this checklist will help you consider how your perspective impacts your understanding of the world, how it impacts those around you, and what things might look like if you choose evidence-based decision making instead.  For help, remember, you can always turn to your Alpha Kappa Psi brothers.

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