Bias is a Four-Letter Word
According to Psychology Today, a bias is a “tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.” It is usually learned or developed through direct experience or conditioning. Some biases, though, are positive and helpful. For example, having a bias for only eating healthy food is a positive thing. But biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance. Whether positive or negative, such cognitive shortcuts can result in prejudgments that lead to rash decisions and even discriminatory practices.
We all have experienced bias in some way, shape, or form. Personally, I have experienced bias as a single professional woman working in a competitive work environment, and even later as an entrepreneur. When I started working remotely in 2013, this raised eyebrows as many people failed to embrace non-traditional ways of working. For many, work symbolizes a “place,” otherwise, it can appear to lack validity and meaning. Yet, as we are progressing through the changing world of work, work is much more than a place. It is not always about what, where, or how the work is done as much as “why” it is being done. My mission has always been to empower jobseekers on their career path to make meaningful transitions. Simon Sinek points out the critical importance of knowing your “why.” Your “why” is the anchor that will help you understand your value and refine your purpose, and will also propel you through turbulent times.
As a newcomer to Canada, my mother recalls experiencing bias at times. Her “why” was a desire to work hard in order to carve out a better life for herself and her family in Canada. A major event served as a turning point in her life. Decades ago, she was hired at her first factory job even though she could only speak a few words of English. This factory job was no easy feat for anyone to take on. Yet, her manager looked beyond her lack of experience and unpolished English language skills. He noticed a bright young woman brimming with promise and committed to working efficiently in Hamilton’s fast-paced glass factory.
As she progressed upward in a variety of roles, she was known for her numerical savviness, assertiveness, and her ability to not take things personally. She treated everyone fairly in an organizational culture that welcomed ambitious workers who were able to survive rotating shifts. She still mentions the hurdles and biases she had to overcome and talks about the competitiveness of her colleagues, referring to the “invisible glass ceiling.” But she chose to overcome these hurdles and delighted in working with a diverse and motivated team to elevate production. She envisioned her “why” or the light at the end of the tunnel, which made all the difference.
The point is that while everyone experiences or witnesses bias, we can never truly know what someone else’s experience of bias is until we have directly experienced it ourselves. Acknowledgment, though, is the first step to raising awareness. We must listen to understand, educate to mobilize change, and engage in honest and authentic conversations so that we can promote action supported by justice and equal opportunity for everyone.
The Heart of the Problem: Addressing Bias
Have you heard your clients say that they did not secure a job offer because of a lack of “fit?” Often, the determination of a lack of fit stems from unconscious bias and a perception of people as “the other,” which fuels an us vs. them mentality. A highly qualified client once confided that she was passed up for a promotion because of her background, even though she was told something different by the employer. This had happened to her a few times.
Until we tackle the heart of the problem by honestly and directly calling out bias and resolving it on a deep grass-roots level, nothing will change. It starts with asking thoughtful questions, dismissing false stereotypes and assumptions, and listening and learning on a deeper level to go beyond surface-level communication. We need to embrace what is happening on a larger scale and understand the devastating consequences of injustice for individuals, families, communities, nations, leaders, diverse professionals, and institutions.
Bullying, mistreatment, discrimination, and abuse in the workplace impacts people and organizations on a deep spiritual level, disintegrating the culture and, thus, derailing promising opportunities and possibilities.
A Powerful Wake-Up Call for Change
Bias has become a four-letter word that must be addressed directly and at a deep systemic level. We need to ask ourselves why bias is so prevalent and what can be done.
In the workplace, the wake-up call to mobilize, address, and move towards eliminating negative biases involves (amongst many other things):
- Reframing mindsets and raising awareness
- Integrating mental health and diversity training
- Engaging in deep reflection for change
- Instilling cultural values of harmony and collaboration in organizations
- Revamping and deploying inclusivity and diversity-based policies
- Promoting a zero-tolerance policy for negative or abusive behaviours
These actions can also be modified to apply to our daily lives outside of work. Change starts with fostering an appreciation for diversity, inclusivity, and harmony, as well as adaptability. These values start in the home, which is where we find ourselves the most these days — adjusting to the “new normal.”
In the meantime, as career professionals, we each need to focus on:
- Appreciating our value and respecting humanity
- Identifying and realistically confronting and challenging the biases we have, then working to change our thought patterns and behaviours
- Courageously achieving higher goals
- Continuing to drive our purpose — our “why”
- Listening to, educating, and supporting clients through these challenging times without judgment
- Coaching clients on understanding bias and its impact on decision-making
- Using NLP-based methodologies, including mindfulness, in order to become aware of biases we (or our clients) may hold
Unfortunately, experiences of bias will not disappear overnight. But we can do our part to be more kind, compassionate, and empathetic. We will need to observe and be mindful of the effect of our actions and behaviours as we strive to create stronger, more inclusive communities. Everyone needs to be appreciated and deserves a chance to achieve success.
Career pros, I would like to hear your feedback! What strategies have you utilized to address unconscious bias with your clients?
Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and please share this post.
Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.