The Thought That Counts - Podcasts on Emotional Intelligence from Ei4Change

The Thought That Counts : Episode 20 - Unconscious Bias

January 18, 2023 Robin Hills Season 1 Episode 20
The Thought That Counts - Podcasts on Emotional Intelligence from Ei4Change
The Thought That Counts : Episode 20 - Unconscious Bias
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Robin Hills (Director, Ei4Change) has been asked to contribute a series of bite-sized, inspirational soundbites for Bolton FM.

Featured every day for a week as The Thought that Counts, these were broadcast on the Breakfast Show and on the Lunchtime Show.

This podcast explores unconscious bias:

  • What is unconscious bias?
  • Unconscious bias and behaviour
  • Working with unconscious bias
  • Unconscious bias and categorising
  • The unconscious and subconscious mind

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Welcome to "The Thought That Counts" podcast based upon my contributions to my local radio station "The Thought That Counts" slot.  This is broadcast on the breakfast show and the lunchtime show over a period of a week. Each broadcast lasts about 90 seconds. 
My contributions are all based around some aspect of emotional intelligence and resilience. These contributions have been put together as hints and tips in this podcast.  

On this occasion, my reflections explore unconscious bias covering: 

  • What is unconscious bias? 
  • Unconscious bias and behaviour. 
  • Working with unconscious bias. 
  • Unconscious bias and categorising.  
  • The unconscious and subconscious mind. 

I hope that you enjoy the podcast and these "The Thought That Counts".

The Thought That Counts.  How biased and prejudiced are you? 

Probably a lot more than you care to think.  Bias is defined as having a fixed opinion, being closed to new information or to rational arguments.  

Bias is like jealousy.  Nobody likes to admit it, and often we're unaware of it.  Now, everyone can be guilty of unconscious bias when stereotypes are made through generalisations in the mind, when assessing situations and other people.  

Unconscious bias happens by the brain automatically making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without you even realising it.  

If you have a brain, you have to admit that you're biased.  Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environments and personal experience.  Often these preconceived ideas don't make much sense.  

For instance, studies have shown that people are favoured when they're tall, and there's a bias against people who are overweight, even when these physical attributes have absolutely no bearing on a person's capabilities.  

Some recent studies have shown that less than 4% of American men are over 1.9 metres tall, yet more than 36% of American Managing Directors are over 1.9 metres.  This attribute would have not been consciously selected for at interview. Yet, thanks to unconscious bias, that's what's happening.  

This may seem irrational and absurd, but often this remains hidden because our own definitions of fairness contain critical elements of unfairness. That's the nature of unconscious bias.  

With conscious bias, you'll be aware of your feelings and attitudes. With unconscious bias, the bias occurs without you knowing.

The Thought that Counts.  

How can our unconscious bias affect our behaviour?  

Unconscious bias is a form of rapid thinking by our brains making quick judgments and assessments.  It's well documented and very pervasive.  Unconscious bias influences our behaviour, and often these behaviours are not compatible with our values and our thinking.  Aside from the more obvious gender and racial biases that we're becoming more familiar with and more aware of, there are some very interesting, less obvious ways that unconscious bias manifests itself that can impact our daily lives.  

A study by two Dutch scientists at Maastrick University in 2015, for example, found that most offices set their thermostats based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40 year old man. This is in accordance with standard indoor air conditioning guidelines, which date back to the 1960s and which have never been updated. Women tend to be smaller and have more body fat than men, and because of this they have slower metabolic rates. This means that current air conditioning standards are too cold for most women.  

Unconscious bias is not limited to gender.  It also impacts ethnicity and other visible diversity characterised such as height, body weight and even names.  

As humans, we're simply fallible to unconscious bias. We don't mean to be biased, we don't want to be biased, but we are, and we can only get past it by pointing it out to each other empathetically and with kindness.

The Thought That Counts. 

Can the issue of unconscious bias be addressed and help us make the right decisions for everyone? 

The first vital step is one of honesty, and being honest with yourself is not always easy.  Recognise, whether you like it or not, that you're biased because of your experience, your gender, your sexual orientation, and your own social background and upbringing.  

Bias affects everyone, but many people experience a higher risk or vulnerability to mistreatment when those biases turn into behaviour that discriminates.  The sooner we accept this reality and take proactive steps to overcome the biases that hold us back, the stronger we become and we'll be in better positions to put all people first.  

Recognise that it's unrealistic to completely eradicate all biases and recognise that it's very easy to hold these biases without even being aware of them. 
Keep an open mind and ask others if you're acting in any way that may be construed as biased. 

Don't berate yourself if you're shown to be biased in any way and don't berate anyone else who expresses biases, especially if these are unconscious.  

We must all acknowledge our unconscious bias and listen with less bias. 

When marginalised people speak out, it's an unpleasant reality that many would like to ignore. A lot of change is possible by just acknowledging unconscious bias, by listening with less bias and acting on what we then learn.

The Thought That Counts. 

As humans, we are hardwired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests. Social characterisation is where we routinely and rapidly sort people into groups. 

These categorisations and preferences can bypass our normal rational and logical thinking.  We use these processes very effectively.  We might call it intuition, but the categories used to sort people are often not logical or rational.  

It's worth reflecting upon those things that have shaped our own view of the world.  This is helpful to understand the events and circumstances that have shaped our values.  

Which groups do you have an affinity towards and which might you be unconsciously biased against?  

In challenging bias, it's important to develop a good understanding of the potential for unconscious bias and to be alert to it. 

Acknowledge cultural and generational differences and historical injustices without becoming defensive. 

Be open to learning about other cultures and other's ideas. 

Recognise when you're making stereotypical judgments.  

Use inclusive language when confronting issues, it's important to ensure that any biases or prejudices of your own don't get in the way of constructive discussion. 

Remember, everyone wants to be treated in a way that respects their individuality. They want to have their wishes, choices and preferences recognised, listened to and respected.

The Thought That Counts.

Do you know the difference between the unconscious mind and the subconscious mind? 

Often these terms are used interchangeably and often they're used incorrectly.  Both lie below our consciousness, but what's the difference between the two? 

The unconscious mind refers to a part of the mind that cannot be known by the conscious mind and includes socially unacceptable ideas, wishes and desires, traumatic memories and painful emotions and thoughts that have been repressed. They're the processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to us.

The subconscious is that part of our consciousness that is not currently within our focus or our awareness.  It refers to that part of consciousness that we are unaware of.  It's the information that we're not actively noticing in the moment, but can influence us nonetheless, such as things that are heard, seen or remembered. 

So our subconscious mind enables us to do things that we don't have to think about, but we can alter them if we choose to.

A good example of subconscious behaviour is breathing.  We don't have to think to breathe at all, but we can change how we control our breath and its patterns.  So whilst we're unable to access our unconscious mind, accessing our subconscious mind can make us stronger and wiser. 

Our conscious mind determines the actions, our subconscious mind determines our reactions, and the reactions are just as important as the actions. 

I'm Robin Hills from EI4Change. Empowering your Emotional Management.

The Thought That Counts.


What is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious Bias and Behaviour
Working with Unconscious Bias
Unconscious Bias and Categorising
The Unconscious and Subconscious Mind