“Everyday Bias” and other Confessions

I work for a large financial services firm. Today, Howard J. Ross, author of Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgements in Our Everyday Lives,  spoke at a special event. Our firm has been focused on diversity in the workplace. Howard Ross is a social scientist who has specialized in these kinds of tough subjects. I have to candidly admit, if someone accused me of being biased, I’d deny the charge. The fact is many of the recent US and World events stemming from bias, racism, bigotry, ageism and religious intolerance had made me take a hard look at my own thinking.  I doubt any of us has avoid thinking about racism or kids drowning because they are trying to escape religious and economic insanity.  I’m not burning witches at the stake or taking up arms to save my community from the Muslim or Mexican invasion.  I am certainly not squalling about women’s health or gay rights. I would deny the charge of racism, ageism, or intolerance. But the fact is, I would be lying.  I’m not talking about the crazy “in your face” acts that play out. I haven’t gunned anyone down, beat up a rival at a football game, or burned down the corner Hispanic church.  I don’t refuse service to GLBT, I don’t cross the street to avoid a person of color, I don’t go out of my way to support only white, protestant businesses. I also don’t shop “in the wrong part of town”, go to certain events, support certain causes, or participate in some activities “because I am a white, protestant, middle income (barely), middle age female”. My own excuse ratted me out.

Oh damn. I’m biased.

Ok. I get it. I operate under certain preconceived ideas and with (apparently) numerous unconscious bias tugging at my decisions.  My decisions are beleaguered by my own version of real and perceived truths.

I think younger candidates are more agile in learning new systems. This is not factually true. It is a bias.  I rapidly judge young men (regardless of race) whose pants are sagging below their butt cheeks or whose heads are wrapped in whatever color bandanna as punk-ass, drug pushing, whore running, gang- bangers.  I see sloppily dress white girls walking down the edge of the ghetto as sex workers.  The ditz behind the cash register in the drive through as the next new welfare mommy.

Yep, my biases slip in and out of my thoughts as easily as the flashes of neurons.

While I’m not ready to admit to all my politically uncomfortable or patently incorrect beliefs, I am willing to admit I have them.  This, to me, is the first step in working to awaken myself to the errors in judgement I’m making.  I would be horrified to think I am letting these biases influence my relationships with co-workers, friends or neighbors.  So, yes, I am going to take Howard Ross’ advice and take a couple breathes, clear my mind, and try to put away my biases before making a decision about someone. At least I’m gonna try.

If you are interested in hearing his take on bias and challenge yourself, Author Talks at Google is kind enough to have it on You Tube for everyone’s enlightenment.  Give it a try, you may be surprised at what you thought you knew about yourself. I know I was.

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