Implicit Bias Does Not Mean We Are Bad People

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The other day someone asked me what “Systemic Racism” meant.  Systems are inanimate, they do not make discretionary decisions.  So how can a system be biased?  We then had a long conversation about difficult things.  I did not have all the answers; neither did he.

We decided systems can be racist (or otherwise discriminatory) because the people who designed the systems were.  The system designers may not have done so intentionally.  It is likely they were entirely unaware they had intentionally or subconsciously created design flaws.

If you think about it, there are biases for height, weight, gender, race, religion, wealth, nationality, speech, sports affiliation, locution, tattoo choice, hair color and style, etc.  The list is endless.  We know these things exist, but quite often, we think we are unaffected by them.

Many of these biases, though, implicitly affect us in ways we don’t even know.  They affect us even when we try not to let them!

Watch this 10-minute video about judges and community leaders who were surprised by their own implicit biases.  The video explains a cognitive dissonance appears when we try to act differently than our bias prefers.  We can do it, but there is an intellectual struggle, even if only slight.

This means our biases often appear when we move quickly and trust our gut.  We may think we know the right way or the proper answer instinctively, but at least one judge in the video admitted, to his horror, his gut was wrong.  Unconscious preferences often appear, even if we do not want them to.  That does not mean we are bad people or that we should not trust our gut.  It means we need to think carefully about doing so.

We urge all business leaders, decision makers, parents, coaches, and influencers – anyone really – to watch the video and take at least one implicit bias test.  Moving quickly and trusting our gut is part of what makes us smart and successful.  But what if our gut is influenced by an implicit bias we did not even see?  As leaders we need to know why we make the decisions we do.  We need to lead.

This is not about the PC police coming to get you (or us).  This is not about shame or recrimination.  These tests – these conversations – are about improving ourselves as leaders and making the best decisions possible.

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