Even before launching CultureWizard 17 years ago, co-founder Michael Schell and I have been addressing the need to overcome the implicit biases that are inherent when confronting cultural differences. That is, after all, CultureWizard’s business purpose, and my own professional purpose even before founding the company. So it was both gratifying and validating when we see implicit bias education going mainstream.
That was my takeaway from The Wall Street Journal’s “Why We Stereotype Strangers.” It’s an excellent article that explores how implicit bias affects us all in the world of work at large, i.e., without focusing on the cross-cultural aspects. The story follows Rick Klau, a venture capitalist and former Google manager, on a journey that shocks him to discover his own implicit biases. Then it describes the strategies and tactics Klau has learned to combat those biases, abstracting them into eight principles that end, truthfully enough in my experience, with “Expect this to be hard.”
It’s hard because the challenge of implicit/unconscious bias runs deep. The brain functions that create unconscious bias play a fundamental role in why human beings became the most successful species on Earth. At its core, unconscious bias is an incredible shortcut, a trick the brain uses to make sense of way more information than it can handle at once.
As CultureWizard contributor Allan Halcrow explains in “6 Ways to Break Your Implicit Bias Patterns,” University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson showed people can be confronted with up to 11,000,000 pieces of information at any given moment – but can only actually process about 40. If we try to process it all equally, the tiger eats us long before we realize there’s a threat. So our brains compress the process: Rather than rely on the data in front of us, our brains depend on our experiences, history and perceptions to make snap decisions. In other words, our brains rely on similar data, assuming that it’s as valid as the actual data.
Only it isn’t – especially when dealing with more than one culture at once. Hence, CultureWizard’s raison d’etre.
We continue to explore implicit bias in our cross-cultural training programs and right here in our blog, always striving to help business leaders learn to overcome unconscious bias so they can be more productive in cross-culture business arrangements. The first step, of course, is always self-awareness: bringing unconscious biases to the surface to see how they may influence you, and so you can make conscious choices instead.
Two of our best articles along those lines are “5 Practices to Counteract Implicit Bias in Multi-Cultural Talent Management” and “7 Techniques for Overcoming Your ‘Primed’ Implicit Bias.” I recommend them to you.
And if you are prepared to be surprised and entertained yourself, go to Harvard’s Implicit Association Test site and take one of the many tests on offer to discover your own unconscious biases about race, gender, sexual orientation, and many other topics.