Deborah Kleinert

Challenging Unconscious Bias

Apparently we have 2 million bits of information coming at us every second and it would be completely overwhelming if we had to be tuned into everything, always.

Therefore our mind filters information into chunks of information and constantly takes ‘shortcuts’ to make sense of the world around us.

Unconscious bias is an example of a ‘shortcut’ our mind takes to make decisions and judgments about people, before we realize we have done so.

Everyone has subconscious preferences shaped by background, personal experiences, social stereotypes and systems, and cultural environment.

These preferences impact the perceptions we have of others before we know them.

Therefore, we tend to seek out people who have similar characteristics to us. When we encounter someone different, the part of our brain responsible for detecting fear or threat and initiating “fight or flight” lights up.

These biases and preferences, left unchecked, prevent us from harnessing and utilizing all the amazing talent and resources we have in our people, create barriers in people’s careers and lives, and prevent businesses from being diverse and inclusive.

Effectively challenging unconscious bias requires leaders to:

  • Carefully consider responses to make rational decisions. Three deep breaths are helpful to switch off ‘fight or flight’.
  • Visualize situations in which the people you meet have diverse characteristics.
  • Reflect on actions and behaviors and ask “how would I handle this if the person looked similar/ different”?
  • Encourage open feedback and ideas from different sources before making a decision.
  • Call out bias and value championing diversity and inclusivity.
  • Recruit employees, engage speakers and vote for candidates who act and think with those values.


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Deborah Kleinert