3 Words About Bias Every Manager Should Know

Managing other people is a huge responsibility.

You have to be aware of not only your team’s actions but also your actions as a leader and the way you think, especially when it comes to the tough topic of unconscious bias. You might be wondering: “I have to manage the way I think?” The answer is: “Yes, you do!” There are certain things going on in your brain that unconsciously affect your decisions and the way that you manage your team.

With that said, you must be aware of these cognitive habits that may impede your practices as a manager. If you want to lead others in a way that’s less biased and more inclusive, be aware of three words about bias ever manager should know.

1. Bias: Bias is the way that we judge others, or, using the not-so-nice word, the way we stereotype people. Our brains use stereotypes to take mental shortcuts so that we can make sense of something unfamiliar by drawing upon our previous experiences and perspectives. Common biases are often based on someone’s gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or religion.

Often, we aren’t conscious of the tiny mental judgments we are making, but they influence how we think, make decisions, and how we treat other people. Biases can be harmful because they are not always accurate. Leaving biases unchecked is dangerous to managing effectively because you may be judging your employees unfairly and depriving them from reaching their full potential. It’s critical managers learn ways to have (and keep!) an open mind and reduce the tendency to judge others.

2. Diversity: Most people you ask think that diversity is about hiring more people of color or being respectful of LGBTQ co-workers. It is, and also so much more. In business environments diversity is the way in which we have a representation of people “not like me.” It’s critical for creativity and innovation that we hire and support diverse voices into the employee mix.

When you hire people of diverse voices and backgrounds, you are able to gain ideas and insights that are different from your own – an essential facet of ideation. When hiring new employees, be curious and receptive to how diverse backgrounds can add a new perspective or value to the team. When navigating meeting dynamics, make sure you seek out the thoughts and opinions of everyone in the room (not just the loudest or the extroverts). Diverse voices in the door, don’t matter if they aren’t being heard.

3: Inclusion – “Sense of belonging,” has been ranked as the third most important need in human satisfaction and fulfillment by social psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow. Inclusion asks: Are we cultivating an environment that makes people feel included? Are there ways we subtly not including people?

As a manager, it is important to encourage participation, create a safe space for sharing and listen to all voices no matter where they come from. Each of your employees should be given an equal chance to succeed and to be heard.

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Did you read the definition of bias and think: “I definitely do that, but I can’t help it!”? That’s ok, no one is perfect. With the proper tools and a strong sense of self-awareness you can work to change this natural habit.

Here are three ways a manager can start to reduce bias:

1. One-on-one coffee breaks or lunches: Get to know everyone on your team individually. This will reduce the amount of judgments you make because you will get to know everyone on a personal level. Once you build personal connections with all of the members of your team, your brain won’t have to work off of stereotypes because you will actually know them as a person.  

2. Develop a set of criteria for decision making: Establish a clear process for your decision making as a manger. This will take away any rash decisions based on judgments or feelings. For instance, Google uses a standardized set of interview questions for all their candidates. This hiring criteria helps Google make more objective decisions. Putting structure in place helps us stay objective rather than emotional and will help you reduce the chance for in the workplace.

3. Identify the situations where you are biased: Brainstorm to find out when and how exactly you are making these biased decisions. This will require a tough look in the mirror and whole lot of self-awareness, but it will give you a better idea of what you can work on. Bias tends to show up when we’re rushed to make a decision, when we’re overly emotional, or when we are personally tied to the outcome. Be specific about the instances you know you are biased and reflect on ways that you can overcome these judgments.

I know that this may seem like a lot, but it’s OK! You have the power to change your actions when it comes to becoming more aware of bias, diversity and inclusion. The secret is learning more about it, keeping it in your awareness and monitoring how and when it shows up.

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