Unconscious (or implicit) biases are stereotypes that we unconsciously form very quickly about people, situations, events, and that leads to often inaccurate/unfair judgment or prejudice based on limited/non-evidenced facts, our background or life experiences.
People can be consciously or unconsciously biased just about anything — not just things like gender, skin color, social group, beliefs, age, physical appearance, opinions, but also things like communication style, voice tone, hobbies or what someone does in their free time. We tend to instinctively categorize people, including ourselves, and things based on these factors. We also classify consciously or unconsciously classify people (and ourselves) according to educational level, disability, sexual orientation, accent, social status, job titles, perceived similarities, thus automatically assigning presumed traits to anyone we subconsciously put in those groups.
By definition, unconscious bias is not intentional — it’s part of the lens through which we perceive the world. In our everyday lives, when people don’t fit our internalized expectations or preferences, we can sometimes have difficulty clearly seeing and valuing their true talents, motivations, and potential, hampering our ability to effectively relate and interact with them.
All People Are Biased:
It’s important to understand that we all have unconscious biases — it’s our brains’ way of dealing with an overload of information. Brain researchers estimate the human mind takes 11 million pieces of information per second through our senses. Out of those 11 million, our brain is consciously aware of only about 40 pieces of information per second. While we think we are being deliberate, rational, and thoughtful, our conscious thinking is actually a very small part of what drives our actions and judgments. No matter how well-meaning we are, we are all susceptible to bias. It’s our brains’ way of making sense of the flood of information that is coming at us constantly.
When faced with situations or people that appear to fit into these “mental maps” our mind has created, we make a number of automatic associations. Not surprisingly, our perceptions and assumptions based on these automatic associations are often incorrect.
Because our unconscious biases are so hidden from ourselves, it takes some work to disrupt them, but it can be done through active reflection and practicing inclusive behaviors. Doing this work benefits the Organization, staff, the people around us, and our mission.
These conscious or unconscious judgments, prejudice or classification can adversely affect our relationship with others, including our partners and beneficiaries; and our ability to effectively establish, nurture and sustain a workplace where the core values of Diversity and Inclusion enshrined in the United Nations Charter are not only a vibrant .
When we understand how biases influence our behavior, we can take action to create an inclusive culture — one where everyone can contribute, innovate, and provide solutions that our clients love.