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Eliminating Bias

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Eliminating Bias People make decisions everyday in favor of one group, and to the detriment of others, without even realizing it. This prejudice or favoritism is bias. Biases affect not only our judgment but also our behavior, beliefs, and perception. Biases are selective, learned, culturally determined and can be inaccurate. Biased thinking leads to misunderstanding, wrong decisions, and to costly consequences. Bias can prove very destructive and is the foundation of stereotypes, prejudice and, ultimately, discrimination. A stereotype is an exaggerated belief, image or distorted truth about a person or group — a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences or social variation. A prejudice is an opinion, prejudgment or attitude about a group or its individual members. Prejudices are often accompanied by ignorance, fear or hatred. Prejudice begins with attachment to a close circle of acquaintances or an "in-group" such as a family and is often aimed at "out-groups." Discrimination is behavior that treats people unequally because of their group memberships and often begins with negative stereotypes and prejudices. Once learned, stereotypes and prejudices resist change, even when evidence fails to support them or points to the contrary. (Willoughby, 2007) When I think of bias I think of blatant ways that it manifests itself, but bias can be so subtle that it is hidden and hard to spot. If I change my conscious attitudes and beliefs this may indirectly change my hidden attitudes and beliefs. If I become aware of my hidden biases, I can suppress and attempt to eliminate those hidden attitudes and beliefs before they become behaviors. The Harvard Implicit Association Tests (IATs) are Hidden Bias Tests that measure unconscious, or automatic, biases. These tests can help us start thinking about hidden biases: Where do they come from? How do they influence our actions? What can we do about them (Willoughby, 2007)? I completed the Gender-Career IAT, the Skin-Tone IAT, and the Race IAT. The data from the Gender-Career IAT suggest that I have a moderate association of male with career and female with family compared to female with career and male with family. The data from the Race IAT suggest that I have an implicit association that Asians and Blacks are better than Whites and Hispanics. The data from the Skin-Tone IAT suggest that I have a moderate automatic preference for dark skin compared to light skin. I took the tests again but the results were the same. ("Project Implicit," 1998) Even though the test results are a little surprising, I do believe they are accurate based on my personal experiences. For instance, my religious belief has always focused more on women being family oriented and taking care of the home while men tend to be more of the supporters and career makers. I do believe that that any woman who has the opportunity to stay at home and focus on family should do so. I have been taught this belief since I was a child so the Gender-Career IAT results seem logical. The Race and Skin-Tone IAT results seem logical as well. I have had more positive interactions and relationships with Blacks and Asians compared to any other race. When I compare my positive experiences to negative experiences, the majority of my negative experiences have been with Whites followed by lighter skinned individuals. I think the data suggests I am most biased towards Hispanics simply because I have not had much interaction with this group. It is not necessarily that I have had negative interaction with this group, but simply less interaction. The IATs have allowed me to see that the more positive experiences I have with a group, the more I prefer that group. The data also proved that despite having negative experiences with my own group I still have a tendency to prefer my own group to another. I believe this is a direct result of the frequency of interaction. According to Cottrell & Albarracín (2007), having a more complete understanding of my reactions to different groups will help improve my tools to eliminate or prevent negative experiences. This is something that I will work on. Before the IATs, I was not aware of some of my own attitudes. The tests are a wake up call for me. I think human tendency is to believe that others are biased, but not we ourselves. After seeing the results of the tests I gained greater awareness of my own unconscious preferences and beliefs. I now need to seek new experiences that will change my attitudes and beliefs ultimately reducing these biases. The first step in overcoming my biases is to accept that biases exist in all of us and to become aware of my own. Second, I must come to understand why the biases exist and accept that change is necessary. Finally, once I am aware of the biases and understand why they exist I can make the effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, them. This effort must take place in both formal and informal settings. In a formal situation such as the workplace, companies need to have a long-term strategy to fight bias. This can be done through company wide initiatives. These initiatives can lead to substantial changes in behavior, where ultimately employees embrace an inclusive culture.
As a manger, when dealing with people from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, I will strive to foster an inclusive work environment. To do this: • I will coach and train employees on cultural differences. These differences can be utilized to accentuate similarities and reduce fear (Bonilla & Goss, 2000). I will provide gender-neutral development tools that help break down the barriers between the in-group and the out-group. • I will promote a diverse workforce and support diversity projects within and outside the company. I will include people of different race, age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, education, and socioeconomic status. I will encourage people to work together in diverse groups to solve shared problems in the workplace and through community service. This diversity will also give the company a competitive advantage by embracing creativity, different ideas, and different points of view. • I will include and abundance of diverse seeing and reading material in the workplace such as posters, pictures, and pamphlets. This will promote dialogue on the similarities between individuals in different groups so that the natural tendency to stereotype is broken. • I will focus on fair treatment and respect throughout every level in the organization. I will support an anonymous complaint line and anonymous employee surveys to combat unfair work practices and biases. This will help to ensure that everybody can have access to his or her fair measure of success. • As a manager I must remain alert to preferences and make a conscious effort to keep them from manifesting. I must especially be aware of these preferences in company hiring and promotion practices. I also have to be able to recognize issues or situations where people may feel disrespected or devalued and make an effort to prevent them. • I will maintain high company morale and productivity by focusing more on employee strengths and success rather than weaknesses. Appropriately affirming and rewarding the good work of my employees can also do this. Even though the above actions are listed for the workplace, most can apply in other areas. Diversity, inclusiveness, fair treatment, and respect are useful in any situation or place. It is unlikely that we can eliminate bias entirely, however, all these concepts can significantly reduce bias. The result will create a more inclusive attitude, one receptive to group differences what ever they may be.
Bonilla, C. A., & Goss, J. (2000). Teaching to ethnicity, gender, and race: the quest for equality. Stockton: ICA Publishing, Inc..
Cottrell, C. A., & Albarracín, D. (2007). Review: a tribute to Allport: surveying the last 50 years of research on prejudice. The American Journal of Psychology, 120(2), 339-344. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from the JSTOR database.
Project Implicit. Project Implicit. (1998). Retrieved October 1, 2011, from
Willoughby, B. (2007, June 10). Test yourself for hidden bias. Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved October 8, 2011, from
"Project Implicit." Project Implicit. IAT Corp, n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.

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