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Definition of the term
The term “unconscious biases” signifies unconscious cognitive perception distortions, which, according to evolutionary theory, allow more rapid uptake and processing of information. At this time, more than 175 cognitive distortions have been identified; these have been categorized and graphically represented by John Manoogian in the Cognitive Bias Codex.
An example of unconscious bias is prejudice, i.e., personal valuation (positive or negative) of groups. Unconscious biases also include stereotypes, whereby groups are categorized according to certain features and characteristics.
Unconscious biases influence the way people act and make decisions. Since the biases are unconscious, they cannot be actively controlled and therefore can lead to unconscious discrimination.
These patterns of thought are not situation-specific and can occur in private as well as professional contexts. Hence, they also influence leadership decisions. Uncovering the effects of biases requires taking a closer look. They appear in the form of implicit norms, career barriers or societal role models. The extent of their impact is often underestimated. Unconscious bias can also be found in specific company-relevant endeavours, such as recruiting or talent development.
Real-life examples include:
- Over- or underestimating competencies based on existing stereotypes (e.g., young people are innovative, older people are traditional)
- Preferential hiring of similar people for similar positions within a company (instead of promoting diversity)
- Assigning tasks based on presumptions (e.g., meeting protocols recorded by women with “prettier handwriting”; negotiations handled by “confident” men)
Managers who are aware of the effects of unconscious biases lead differently. They concentrate on the various personalities on their team and reflect on their own behaviour vis-à-vis individual team members. This practice is an element of the inclusive leadership approach.
Inclusive leaders are more aware of prejudices and stereotypes and thus can make decisions more consciously. If you are interested in this leadership approach, please contact me!