F53-081: Unconscious Bias – Be Careful Not To Desensitize Your Intuition
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Today’s show is a bit of a rift but this seems appropriate to dive into. The topic is called Unconscious Bias.
Here are a couple of definitions to set the stage as well as some of the narrative around it before I dive into what my beef is with it.
Bias versus Intuition
Bias is defined as an inclination of temperament or outlook, especially a person, and sometimes unreasoned judgment.
The flip side of it is something I consider one of the most powerful things that business people or anyone for that matter have, which is their intuition. For me, I’ve found that when I do some of my worst work is when I don’t follow my intuition.
Intuition is defined as the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reason. So it sounds an awful lot like a bias.
However, a bias is obviously with negative connotation. You look down on something or somebody or have some type of prejudice.
You may have heard of this term and there is a massive narrative going on with this. I see it extensively in large organizations and on media outlets, especially the Fortune 500 companies I’m in or around.
With training, communications, meetings, forced training, forced action, and questioning – basically everything you do is some form of unconscious bias.
It’s a question of the people you work with, with their race, gender, sex, nationality, etc., the people you hire and fire – it’s all being shaped or molded by this concept of unconscious bias.
A Mask on Discrimination, Stripping Away Intuition
To me, this is a new mask put on the word, discrimination. (This might make your feathers ruffle a bit) Instead of focusing on the people or the circumstances that are discriminatory, the narrative is that you have to question every decision you make about any person, any situation, any organization and vetted against some sort of bias. Therein lies the problem.
I believe this strips us away of some of our natural intuition and the biases we have in our life are the things that have built our intuition. Especially for those people that are intuitive (which I consider myself), it strips away your power.
For example, if you have walked by a house that has type of dog that’s ferocious and vicious (pitbull for instance) and it bites you, maybe you’ll be scared of dogs. However, if you walk by five houses and this dog is ferocious and vicious and it bites you, you’re going to establish an intuition about that type of dog. So when you run across that dog in the future, you will now have this natural thought process about that type of dog. That’s normal and natural. That’s what you call a defense mechanism. That’s what you call experience.
People that are experienced in the field see things, feel things, hear things, and sense things. That’s what makes them awesome at their job. This unconscious bias strips that away. So when you run across another pitbull and you automatically associate it as dangerous, you could be wrong but you could also be right. And you could be right far more times than you are wrong for that one bias that you have.
This is the challenge in the business world, in corporate America, or in your small business. What does that unconscious bias look like?
It’s About Being Smart
There is a fine line between a bias that’s on the negative side and intuition. Let’s face it, this is where people may not agree with but your intuition is not only for good things but also for the bad things. If it’s going to be labeled as a bias that your intuition tells you to stay away from a certain person or business profile that’s treated you wrong, if those are the things you stay away from because you’ve learned from them in the past, then I don’t consider you a racist or that you’re discriminatory. Instead, I consider you smart that you’re taking action.
Labeling Based on Perceived Unconscious Bias
I am not naive, in the slightest, to believe that there is no discrimination out there. My wife’s family is from Mexico and my kids are half-Mexican. I am a mentor of underprivileged youth so I am very aware of the discrimination for race, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.
But the narrative of not putting people in a box and then later put them in a box because they’re part of the box or that you hire or fire them because they’re not in the box is the same thing with what they’re trying to teach about not having unconscious bias.
When I was a kid, we had a mixture of nationalities – Hispanics, African-American, Asian kids. I really didn’t know the difference between races or what that meant. In fact, one of my best friends at that time was Jewish. I had no idea he was different than anyone else because he really was not. They just had a different holiday celebration but that was it. They’re the same people. Unfortunately, we’ve lost some of that. My intuition now is that we lose some of that by labeling and forcing actions based on this perceived unconscious bias.
I was talking with my business coach, Mark Silverman, and brought up this concept of unconscious bias to him and how it charred me a bit. He brought up a good point though that people do have unconscious bias. I get that.. I wouldn’t even call it an unconscious bias. I think some people are just flat out discriminatory. I don’t even consider it unconscious.
Intuition versus Reality
You have to have a level of awareness inside of you to acknowledge what your intuition tells you versus reality. People that are aware of that can handle it.
So if I see a pitbull and it comes up nice and wagging its tail and excited to see me, I should be aware enough to change my perception about that. And you can apply this methodology to whatever business scenario you want.
I’d Love to Know Your Opinion
Unconscious bias is a hot topic right now and I’d love to know your take on this. It’s a massive hot topic in the Fortune 500 companies.
As a side note, anything that becomes a massive hot topic in the Fortune 500 space is because they’re afraid of getting sued. They don’t do anything without some type of consequence so they’re doing risk mediation.
Like I said, I consider unconscious bias as just another painted picture for discrimination and the things that come with it. This is a disturbing topic for me because it strips away intuition and again, for me, intuition is built through experiences and experiences create really good professionals and really good business people. Stripping that away and throwing a wet rag over that does the business person and the employee a bit of a disservice.
Some hard core examples from a business standpoint:
Facial or neck tattoos
When somebody comes in and I’m interviewing them and they have facial or neck tattoos or piercings, you can bet that I have some intuition about whether this person is a good fit for my company. And I may be wrong and they may be the best person in town. But they don’t fit what I’m looking for and I know that. They will have impact on my customer base if they’re doing physical interactions with them that I don’t want. Call that bias. Call that intuition. Call that experience. But if you’ve got a neck tattoo, you can’t be helping me sell or deliver high quality services and it’s just how it is.
I think that scenario happens all the time. And sometimes it is wrong. You hear it all the time in the development or programming space. Like you don’t want an Indian person answering the phone because you can’t understand them. And I find that to be crap. That said, if their communication is not good, regardless if they’re Indian, Chinese, Mexican, American, etc, if they can’t communicate well then that’s the problem. It has nothing to do with them being Indian.
What are you trying to accomplish and what are you trying to solve? How does your intuition work? Mine doesn’t work in “Wow! They’re Indians so they automatically don’t speak good English.” But, “I wonder how well they communicate.” I’m obviously going to wonder if they have a thick Indian accent that would be hard for people to understand. Of course, that has to go through your thought process and has nothing to do with being racist or bias because they’re Indians but it has to do with whether they’re communicating well. And you need to vet that out.
Books, People, & Resources:
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