Leaders – Beware of inherent bias


Inherent bias is an insidious beast. Inherent bias is the opinions and judgement we each hold deep within ourselves that are a result of our upbringing, our environment, and our experiences. Many times these biases are not explicit. Many times we may not even realize we have them. This is what makes them especially dangerous.

Think about the last time you sat in a public place. Maybe a restaurant, an airport, a ballgame. Think about the people you saw there and what you thought about them. Chances are you only had a fraction of a second to observe them, but in that time you made all kinds of assumptions about that person. At the restaurant, was it a couple on a first date? An interview? A family celebration? At the airport, did you notice how tired a businessman was, or how excited a family was, or how differently people are dressed at the gates for a flight to Seattle versus L.A. versus Milwaukee?

This is not a bad thing – we are programmed to be alert to danger and to act quickly when confronted with it. The problem is when these biases are invoked in inappropriate situations, such as in the hiring decision of a new associate, or the determination of who will be promoted.

There are many studies out there that look at this inherent bias and have proven that it exists. Check out Project Implicit to see some of what might be hiding in your subconscious. Be prepared for some startling results! A study by Corrine Moss-Racusin shows that hiring managers make significant judgement based solely on the name a top of the resume.  “John” has a much higher degree of hireability than “Jennifer”. Another study by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan shows that the same is true when comparing “white” names to “black” names. You can guess who scores more interviews.

So what do we do about this? First and foremost, we must acknowledge that this exists, and work to understand how our own inherent biases are affecting our judgement. We need to examine our decisions to be sure we have accounted for these biases. Then, we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

The next time you are in any type of position to make a decision involving the choice of one person over another, I challenge you to stop and consider how you are making this decision. Be sure you have not discounted (or over-emphasized) someone for traits unrelated to the job at hand. This is one way we can all work toward a more equitable workplace for everyone.

Good luck, happy Wednesday, and keep it positive and smile!

1 Comment Leaders – Beware of inherent bias

  1. K. Edmunds

    Great post! As leaders it is important to be self aware of yourself and to also gain input from others without being close minded. Check out some of my leadership post when you get the chance 🙂


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