My grandfather was a neurologist, and he was about as cerebral as they come. Always reading, always learning. He is the only person I’ve ever met who could accurately cite definitions from theEncyclopædia Britannica. I remember learning about the idea of bias from him, and how he described it as a fascinating (and kind of awesome) adaptation of the human brain.
Today, bias seems to have a more charged and even negative connotation, but I still like to think of it the way my grandfather explained it: our brains are constantly receiving millions (literally, millions) of pieces of information, but we can only process some of those signals at once.
So, we adapted. Our brains learned to compress and process information, create shortcuts, and make snap judgements without slowing down our conscious behaviors. Those snap judgements create bias—the assumptions we make without really thinking. But bias is part of being human, and, in many cases, is a helpful tool that facilitates many life tasks.
It only becomes problematic when we let our biases become prejudicial.
Since today’s average work environment is inherently global, it’s even more important to challenge our biases so that we can contribute to a more inclusive, engaged and productive environment that makes the most out of diverse ideas. You can do this by slowing down, assessing your reasoning, and monitoring yourself and others for bias when you evaluate situations and make decisions. Let’s look at some of the common forms of bias to help you understand its impact on your global diversity and inclusion strategy—and your daily life.
1. The Halo Effect Impacts How We Perceive Others
The Halo Effect occurs when our impression of someone (or something) unconsciously influences our opinion of a different aspect of their character. In the business world, this bias often occurs during hiring and performance appraisals. For example, if a job candidate dresses elegantly for their interview, you might unconsciously assume that they are more skilled in their field than a candidate who dresses casually or has a stained shirt. To combat this bias and create an inclusive workspace, include diverse perspectives in the hiring process, and evaluate your reasoning before you make a final decision.
2. Confirmation Bias Can Make it Hard to Accept Diverse Ideas
Confirmation bias describes our tendency to interpret new evidence or recall information as a confirmation of pre-existing beliefs or ideas. For example, this study shows that 25% of medical students demonstrate confirmation bias when they are asked to find new or contradictory information about a case in which they’ve already given a preliminary diagnosis. That is, their bias causes them to assume that their preliminary diagnosis is accurate, even if new information leans otherwise.
Confirmation bias can manifest a number of different ways in the global workplace, such as when a leader is reluctant to pursue new opportunities or solutions because they assume that past ideas will continue to be the most effective.
3. Anchoring Bias Can Keep Us Stuck in Old Ways
Anchoring bias occurs when we’re overly influenced by older information, or an “anchor,” when we interpret a new situation. This “anchor” is usually the first piece of information we hear, or what we are used to. Let’s say that one day, I find rotisserie chickens on sale at my local grocery store for $5. That $5 becomes my “anchor” for the cost of rotisserie chickens.
But chicken doesn’t cost the same amount across different neighborhoods, cities, or countries. If I move to India, I shouldn’t necessarily expect to pay $5 worth of Indian rupees for a chicken because I need to consider the local market more heavily than my $5 “anchor.”
Anchoring bias becomes problematic for global diversity and inclusion strategies when we assume that our baseline information should remain consistent across different circumstances or cultures. This means that it’s particularly important to check for anchoring bias when you negotiate or establish new partnerships.
4. Negativity Bias Can Hinder a Positive Outlook
Humans have an innate tendency (albeit an unfortunate one) to remember negative interactions or experiences more than we remember positive ones. Our brains even display more activity when we look at images designed to spark negative feelings than those intended to spark positive feelings. This reaction is powerful enough that humans, on average, need approximately five times as many positive versus negative experiences in order for a relationship to remain stable or feel worthwhile. That’s negativity bias.
In the workplace, this greater sensitivity to negative information means that we are more likely to view relationships with colleagues negatively, even if most of our experiences with them have been positive. Remember to think holistically about your interactions so you can be as objective (and inclusive) as possible—especially when working with others from different backgrounds.
5. The Status Quo Effect Can Hold Back Innovative Potential
Humans tend to feel more comfortable in familiar situations, when we can go along with the status quo. It feels safer—we feel more certain that we’ll avoid negative consequences if we make decisions or exhibit behaviors that have worked for us in the past.
Status quo bias becomes problematic when we assume that the current situation represents the best possibility, without fully considering alternative ideas or solutions. This can hinder global diversity and inclusion initiatives by discouraging creativity and innovation. In turn, this can prevent employees and leaders from reaching their full potential. Monitor for this bias by giving new ideas equal consideration and reflecting on your reasoning for making certain decisions.
Understanding Bias Can Help Boost Global Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
Bias is unavoidable. It’s part of what makes us human. But left unchecked, it can be problematic—causing us to unjustly discriminate against ideas, values, and situations different from our own. Understanding how bias works and how it can affect global diversity and inclusion efforts is one major step to fostering innovation, creativity, and ultimately, success.