Aug 19, 2021
Breaking the Pattern

How unconscious bias shapes our decisions without us realising it

Husain Rokadia
HR Business Partner

Unconscious bias is a lurking force that can affect our behaviour in ways we don't even realise. From the language we use to the decisions we make, it shapes our worldviews and can have a significant impact on our personal and professional lives. Join us as we delve into this hidden influence and explore strategies for breaking free from its grasp.

Unconscious or implicit bias refers to the associations that are made between different qualities and social categories such race, gender or disability and are judgements that are made without conscious awareness. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalised.

To put it simply, it is a tendency, thought or feeling, that isn't based on conscious reasoning.

How does unconscious bias occur?

• Our brains are like computer databases that store information, images & experiences.

• So when presented with new information, our brains automatically pattern match using existing data.

• When it works, it helps us make quick decisions and process new data.

Solving the Pattern matching problem

Although this automatic matching process has served a purpose. It lets us sort through thousand of data points and make decisions. But, If you have limited data points for data matching i.e through limited exposure or experience or being fed the wrong data. Then, we might tend to discredit objective information and continue to create incorrect matches.

How does bias manifest?

Subtle but offensive actions or comments that reinforce preconceived perceptions. And further, marginalise people who may already feel marginalised. Called as Microagressions. A few examples that occur in the workplace:

• Being ignored or overlooked

• Expected to have inferior abilities

• Being talked down to, treated as "stupid" or treated rudely

• Having ideas minimised and devalued

• Treated in an overly intimate way

• Being stared at, examined or objectified

• Being excluded from conversations or activities

From Awareness to Action

Follow this simple three step process as a conscious mental model to streamline our thoughts when new data is presented to us or when making a decision:

1. Understand the risk

• Why do I see this person this way?

• Do the facts support the way I'm looking at this situation?

• How am I approaching this problem or decision?

• Why do I feel the way I do about this situation?

• Why am I doing what I'm doing?

2. Identify the consequences

• Choosing the right person for an assignment?

• Hearing everyone and surfacing the best idea?

• Using my skills or someone else's skills to their fullest?

• Seeing and recognising the best performance

• Giving everyone the chance they deserve to shine?

3. Follow a process

• Keep it simple

• Create a process that helps you focus on facts that matter and stay objective.