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Being conscious of your unconscious biases

In a recent blog Rugby, Chess, TV and hidden bias we focussed on news articles that showed how common (and unconscious) gender bias is in our everyday media. We can have unconscious bias towards any number of things and because we don’t know that we have them (that’s why they are unconscious), these biases can be troublesome.

Right now unconscious bias is a trendy topic for many organisations and of course that means that they are attracting a lot of attention. There are lots of people, coaches amongst them, who will happily help you to let go of the biases that you become aware of and don’t like. But at Altris, what we find interesting is how you discover your unconscious biases in the first place.

It’s all well and good saying that if you have a high level of self awareness you will know what your biases are but biases can influence how we see the world at the most fundamental level which means that even if you are very self aware you may not realise that you are operating through a bias (or lens) because it’s so natural for you to think the way that you do.

Why you need to understand your value structure

One way of revealing your unconscious biases is to understand how you make meaning for yourself through your value structure. Your value structure is what allows you to decide whether something is good or not good (either/or) or not as good (comparative) or unique (empathetic).  These three choices are the lenses through which you see the world. You will always prefer one over the other, you will be attentive to one and less attentive to the others. And built into that last sentence is unconscious bias: if you see ‘these’ but don’t pay as much attention to ‘those’, it’s a short step to being biased towards or against something. This is unconscious bias because it’s based on a structure in your mind, your value structure; it’s not something that you have written in front of you to make it conscious.

At its most basic level, most of the time unconscious bias results in the difference between people who need to analyse and understand the detail and people who prefer to rely on gut feel.

But unconscious bias can accidentally result in people issues. Seeing how someone else ‘should be’ (this is a strong preference for individuals with a black and white preference who have less attention to empathy) can result in judgement and prejudice in the workplace. And yet if I asked the individual if they were prejudiced, they would say that they weren’t because ‘that would be wrong’.

That’s where an understanding of your value structure can help you to understand your unintentional unconscious bias and also help you to deconstruct the bias and do something about it when it’s not helping you to be what you want to be in the world.


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