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The importance of examining unconscious bias

What is unconscious bias and why should we talk about it? Unconscious bias is an inherent or learned stereotype about people that everyone forms without realizing it. Our unconscious bias happens in the background of our brains. It’s important to become aware of our bias, to ensure we make the best decisions— personally and professionally. Slipstream started the conversation to educate staff on the importance of becoming aware of our unconscious bias and the impact it has on decision making.

Each of us has a perception of what is normal in life. Problems start when we equate normal with good/right and different with bad/wrong. You may start judging people whose norms are different from yours. Once we recognize this, we can reframe. We can consider “different” as an interactive description rather than absolute. Normal is how things have been and not an indicator as they should be.

How do we become aware of our bias? 
You can take the implicit association test which will give you some areas to focus on. The most essential way to become aware is to pay attention to your behavior and decisions. Consider the types of biases you may have related to gender, race, sexuality, personality, life situation, and the workplace. The goal is to untangle where and how you make unconscious judgements. Be curious – think about who you surround yourself with and if they fit any patterns. Question your certainty and examine your thought processes. Name and write them down so you can start to address them.

It’s important to question and understand where your viewpoints come from. Recognize that the lens you use to view the world comes from your past experiences. 

Now what?
Once you are aware of your bias, you can examine them. Do they help or hurt anyone? Where did you learn to think this way? Observe your thoughts objectively. After, you can see if they have negative implications. If they do, try to learn more. Reflect on your thoughts without judgement and get familiar with them. Expose yourself to new media and seek new points of view that can help to change your brain.
Recognize individuality. Biases are generalizations. Ask open-ended questions when in conversations with others. Ask everyone to contribute their viewpoint in meetings. Attribute contributions to the right people.

Try to minimize the impact of unconscious bias at work by using devil’s advocate practices. Present other sides of argument and opinion. Take your time when making decisions and practice being open. 

Why is this important? 
We relate to people differently based on our biases. We can miss out on opportunities to learn, connect, and grow if we choose not to interact with others based on a bias. Our choices have a ripple effect. When all people share similar backgrounds at work, people who look and act like us will have an advantage when it comes to getting hired and even sharing ideas. People outside the majority are put at a disadvantage and made to feel like outsiders.

Our hope at Slipstream is to create an ongoing conversation and make everyone comfortable talking about bias. Or, get comfortable being uncomfortable. We have all experienced bias inside or outside of work. We can learn from each other and make changes that begin to reflect the type of world we wish to see. A world that is open, accepting, and self-aware.