December 12, 2018

Are you aware what unconscious bias is doing to your business?

ICBE “Unconscious Bias: The Trusted Ten” Webinar

Unconscious bias is one of those areas that we are all vaguely aware of – but its impact on businesses is now more fully understood and more widely discussed.

It is also one of those areas that once someone takes you on the journey and asks some reflective questions, it becomes clear that it is so normalised we don’t notice it or question it.

Asking these probing questions in a 20 minute webinar is how Betty O’Callaghan from Mojo for Leaders started her presentation on ‘Unconscious Bias: The Trusted Ten’. Betty started by getting attendees to write down the initials of the people (outside of family) that they trust the most. They then added some more detail about those people in the form of gender, education level, age, marital status, nationality and if any disability to help build a profile of them.

Armed with this, Betty then probed deeper asking how much like you are your ‘Trusted 10’? Are they the same age or gender etc…  Asking the group to reflect on what they noticed about their ‘Trusted 10’ in terms of diversity. Betty confessed that when she originally did the exercise on herself she found she had no one under 40 years old on the list, which was also mainly populated by females.

Most people recorded similar findings that without deliberately constructing (Unconscious bias is a judgement made without being aware that we are doing so) it to be so, we tend to surround ourselves with similar people. Ignoring this bias can impact innovation and developing talent.  However, as Betty points out – it is a natural reaction to organising the world around us.

This ‘like me’ bias shows up everywhere: from our relationships, what/who we value, how we socialise and with whom, in those we trust deeply, to what and who we see and hear. It also shows up in our work teams from recruitment (think how you scan CVs), mentoring and informal interactions, reviews/promotions, through to challenging development opportunities.

Naturally this impacts on areas from diversity/inclusion, engagement/collaboration, quality of problem solving, through to customer and market perspective. The latter could have a big impact if we only see/understand/target customers like us.

Unconscious bias operates in the second level of thinking where we operate most often and is characterised by automatic, impulsive and unthinking behaviour (the first level being deliberate, rational and thoughtful).

As our minds process 11 millions bits of information per second and our conscious brain is  only capable of processing 50 bits per second, it is no wonder that our unconscious brain has developed ‘mental shortcuts’ so we can make snap judgements and save energy. Although these shortcuts defend us they can also limit our potential. The ‘like me’ unconscious bias is also supercharged and made worse by anger, stress, busyness, multi tasking and time pressure.

The big question is how can we avoid unconscious bias?  Betty finished her presentation with a number of actions based around raising awareness, making connections and activating level 1 thinking.

These included

Raising Awareness

– Monitor ourselves – Make a habit of noticing and calling ourselves out on it

– Talk about it – Share exercises like ‘Trusted 10’

– Ask questions

Seek Connections

– Make diverse connections with folk different to ourselves – ask questions and commit ourselves to listening – hearing

– Seek multiple perspectives – ‘What else could be?’

Activate Level 1 Thinking

– Deliberately slow down

– Especially with key decisions like hiring, choosing people for promotion & high profile opportunities …. Pay special attention to ‘culture fit’ – it can be a proxy for ‘like us/me’

It was clear after the 15 minute webinar that we only saw the tip of the iceberg tip of unconscious bias, but even being aware/acknowledging it and starting the journey to open discussion could have a deep impact on our businesses.

You can replay Betty’s slides and watch the webinar video below.

Trusted 10 - Lunchtime Bite - 12th December, 2018


Watch Betty’s webinar below.

Post Webinar Addition:
As the session finished we missed some of the attendee questions. See below plus answer by Betty.

Q. Betty do you think its a good idea should D & I model not be encompassed into an Organisations Training induction period so New hires understand its embedded into the Organisation Culture

A. Where Diversity & Inclusion is already embedded in the organisational culture it’s best practice to incorporate it into induction – indeed into the entire selection process and beyond.

Where D&I is not already embedded then incorporating D&I in to induction is still useful as part of a wider approach.

However, many companies are still at the stage of considering or beginning to embrace D&I rather than regarding it as fully integrated in to their culture so I would add a caution – new hires form a view of their new organisation very quickly and one of the things that can be a turn off/de-motivator is identifying a ‘Say – Do’ Gap.  For these organisations, I’d advise including D&I in Induction and making sure that what’s shared reflects where the organisation is at so new hires can join and participate in the journey.

I’d also add that new hires can be a super source of diversity of experience and thinking and yet I’ve seen negative responses to people who talk about ‘how we did xx in the last place’.   So I’d offer a question  – How can you create structures, processes, experiences, environments that support the new hire and the organisation in harvesting rather than rejecting the benefits of new/diverse thinking?

By the way, The Irish Centre for Diversity, are doing very worthwhile work including developing and launching their Investors in Diversity (IiD) Mark – a user friendly Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Mark.

If you’re looking for a structure and wondering where to start, they offer a 7 stage Journey for organisations of all sizes:


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