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7 surprising truths about unconscious bias – and how to combat it

There has been an outpouring of research on unconscious bias over the past several years. With that comes some pervasive and common misconceptions. Read on to gain a deeper understanding and discover seven surprising truths about unconscious bias!

1. Everyone has unconscious biases – and I mean everyone.

Because the human brain takes in so much information in any given second, it has created strategies and shortcuts to simplify the world and data it collects. Unconscious bias is one of those strategies that all of our brains use to help us react to and process infinite pieces of information.

2. Unconscious biases can actually be really helpful, in some ways.

Unconscious biases are helpful in the way they distill information overload into digestible pieces. Our ancestors’ unconscious bias triggered their fight or flight response, which was lifesaving in encounters with wild animals and navigation of natural disasters. Modern day humans’ unconscious bias helps in other, albeit less life-threatening, but still significant ways.

3. Bias comes in many forms.

Most people know that bias is related to the classic stereotypes that surround gender and race. But bias is also related to individuals with disabilities, foreign accents, and even physical attributes such as height, beauty, and face symmetry.

4. Bias affects all aspects of life.

Bias exists not just in our personal life, but also our work life. Bias has been shown to affect hiring, mentoring, and salary outcomes.

5. Awareness is not enough to combat bias.

While it is important to be aware of the unconscious and implicit biases we have, awareness is not enough to effect change. Many people falsely believe that their basic awareness of the existence of biases is the only weapon they have to prevent biases from impacting their interactions and thought processes.

6. In addition to awareness, we need to actively work to change our behavior.

Awareness is not enough to combat the effects of biases. Instead, experts advise that we internalize and truly understand the negative consequences of unconscious biases. Then, we follow up that deep awareness with a commitment to slow our thought processes and decision-making processes in order to make thoroughly considered decisions.

7. We can combat the unconscious bias others have about us.

You have the power to subvert biases that others have against you. When you anticipate and express awareness of the assumptions others have about you, you effectively disarm them. You empower yourself by taking the bias others have of you into your own hands and re-framing the narrative to your benefit.