BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Excuse me, your bias is showing

Do you think you’re good at judging people?  You are, but probably not in the way you think…

We all live complicated lives and nature has given us neurological shortcuts so we don’t have to relearn everything as we go.  For example, when we encounter a closed door, we don’t need to consciously think:  What is this?  What is it for?  Why is it here?  or How does it work? Instead, we grab the handle and walk through (perhaps with a little push/pull confusion on the way!)

Similar shortcuts are in operations when we interact with other people.  We are able to quickly assess a person based on our past experiences and conditioning.  This usually goes on beyond our awareness.  Efficient but not always accurate!

For more than a decade Project Implicit, based at Harvard University, has been tracking a whole range of our hidden prejudicial associations.  Curious about my own, I decided to try one of their Implicit Association Tests (IATs).  Being a feminist, mother of two girls, business woman and teacher, I thought I’d be pretty safe trying a test called ‘Gender-Career’.  Imagine my surprise (horror!) when I found my results showed that I strongly associated men with careers and women with family life.

Implicit biases are shown in the majority of the population.  At least I’m not alone.  And most of us don’t even know we are biased against certain groups.

How is this significant in business?

Our hidden prejudices predict how we respond to others.  They may impact on:

  • deciding on the best applicant for a role
  • evaluating others’ work performance
  • how friendly and inclusive we are towards team members

Tip:  Job interviews are a notoriously inaccurate way to predict workplace behaviour, even when conducted by experts.  Project Implicit shows that without using objective measures of job fit, we are often relying on judgements we aren’t aware of and can’t control.

Curious about your own biases?  You can visit Project Implicit online and take a test of your choice.

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