Scholar, author, and public speaker, Brene Brown endeared us with a story about the great humanitarian and poet Maya Angelou at the recent Pennsylvania Women's Conference that provoked a conversation for bias within. "It is a fact that human beings are consistently, routinely, and profoundly biased,"
claims Howard Ross, author of Unconscious Bias. That's not the issue.
Unprecedented efforts have been made in the last several decades to raise human equality throughout the world. In the United States there's the civil rights movement, the women's movement, lesbian, gay and transgender initiatives, the disability act, etc. We have countless diversity guidelines, laws, programs, corporate officers, military programs, governmental agencies, accountability systems and standards of excellence to protect and prevent against biased practices in our workplaces, educational institutions, and communities locally, nationally and globally. No doubt we have made great strides; yet biases persist.
While these safeguards exist, there is unfortunately, a litany of stories, examples and incidences of how bias continues to call the day in every part of our lives. Last year I attended a meeting in which the facilitator asked, "With Whom are you having dinner?" His prodding suggested that we venture out of our comfort zones and enjoy meals with different audiences occasionally. He claimed, that's where growth exists - engaging in different - different people, food, conversation, restaurants, and experiences. I think we all recognize and agree that creating diverse environments contributes to rich and rewarding experiences. Yet, it is not easy.
Our everyday thinking runs the show. This automatic way of thinking keeps our unconscious bias alive and well. Fortunately, advances in medicine, especially neuroscience, are shedding great light on human behavior individually and collectively. We know that one of the functions of our brain is designed to keep us safe and efficient. In this process, our brains don't always get it right. Its perception of danger is sometime skewed triggering emotional responses that are less than or inconsistent with our greater judgment. Therein lies the condition for unconscious bias. And, that's the issue.
Distinguishing our biases, inviting conversations that examine them, and daring to experiment with them will dismantle the construct of our unconscious and deeply held beliefs, assumptions and unexamined thinking. This is brave, intentional and often difficult work. Perhaps a deeper understanding of this human condition will accelerate the possibility for belonging, connectedness and continuous positive improvement.
Ross, Howard J. Everyday BIAS. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014