Bias or Unconscious Bias That Is The Question?

For me discussions about unconscious Bias and Bias is an annoying one. Why you may ask? Its how people concentrate on unconscious bias and avoid working on the reality of bias. To understand my thought process I thought it useful to identify the definition of both.

The Definition of Unconscious Bias

The adaptation by Professor Uta Frith DBE FBA FMedSci FRS on behalf of The Royal Society suggests; Unconscious bias is when we make judgments or decisions on the basis of our prior experience, our own personal deep-seated thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations, and we are not aware that we are doing it.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy study shows “Implicit bias” is a term of art referring to relatively unconscious and relatively automatic features of prejudiced judgment and social behavior.

The Definition of Bias

Psychology Today states; A bias is a tendency. Most biases—like the preference to eat food instead of paper clips—are helpful. But cognitive shortcuts can cause problems when we’re not aware of them and apply them inappropriately, leading to rash decisions or discriminatory practices. Stereotype threat, for example, is the confirmation of negative stereotypes about another person’s race, gender, group, and so on.

Oxford Dictionary; Inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

I do not necessarily have an issue with the definition of bias as it gives an description of those who do not like things or people because of how they feel about them. Its not the matter of applying negative thoughts inappropriately its simple that the individual are choosing to take the stance which makes them feel better.

When it comes to talking about unconscious bias this is where I struggle. I struggle because I do not believe bias can be unconscious that would infer the person is a sleep? or there brain is not engaged? Yes there are eminent people out there that have made a case for unconscious bias but in reality is this not a way to create a’ get out’ clause for those who harbour bias towards others? Or am I reading it all wrong could it be what organisations use it for to soften the blow of real bias? Either way it doesn’t sit comfortably with me using the term unconscious bias. One is sometimes compelled to use the phrase to keep up with buzzwords in the market place. I myself have done so using it within my CV, I have however deleted all mention of unconscious bias from my CV because I feel that strongly about it.

I met with a colleague of mine Jiten Patel who co-wrote the book Demystifying Diversity. Jiten is a great Equality and Diversity Champion and we often have discussions around this area. During our recent meeting with discussed unconscious bias and I of course gave him my opinion which he duly accepted. He did however offer another view which is Inherent Bias, the definition of inherent is that it exists in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute. This definition is more in line with my beliefs as I believe bias is inherent in the way you are brought up and what you are exposed to.

Inherent Bias is a strong and definitive way that shows people where their bias may stem from. If you get people to look in the mirror they can then view the change they need to make. This is the same for organisations, inherent bias in organisations is rife and needs to be challenged by those willing to speak out. Through my writing and conversations I have shown my commitment to Equality and Diversity and will continue to do so. We must stop softening the area of Bias and give it the name that it needs to play a significant part in challenging organisational behaviour, employee engagement and employee to employee interaction.

I am sure there are those of you out there that feel comfortable with unconscious bias and feel my view is unfounded. That’s ok, you must work with what makes you comfortable but I do feel if you want to make a strong point we should consider using Inherent Bias and challenge these biases and make real change. There are too many stories circulating about poor behaviour of organisations and individuals towards people like me. I for one will not stand for this type of behaviour to continue. I will call out bias when I see it and I will defend those who need my support.

Action around BAME and those with disabilities need to be addressed now! I do not want to look at another report, or see another diversity conference without any diversity in the panel. Action is the only thing that will make things change and reduce the bias that is currently inherent in the workplace and the community.

About the Author

Dianne Greyson is a well known HR specialist with significant organisational experience working for the public and private sector for over 20 years. She is a talented speaker and author of articles focusing on the organisational environment.

Dianne is an an advocate for Equality and Diversity. She seeks to improve the capabilities of organisations and make them into ‘People Champions’. She believes that more effort should be made to reflect society and eradicate divisions and negative behaviours in organisations.

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