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Commentary: Everyone has unconscious biases, even me

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – While taking an online free training course on the Air Force e-learning site, I learned a few things about hidden biases that can hinder growth and productivity in an office environment.

First of all, I balked when I read that EVERYONE has biases that they don’t truly understand unless they can own it and change it.

One of the course examples was two female managers, discussing upcoming job interviews.

One of the women was discussing an upcoming job interview with a colleague.

She said of one job interviewee, “I’m not sure about this one. Her resume says she’s a single mom of young children, so she’ll miss lots of work when her kids get sick!” That’s a bias.

Her colleague disagreed and listed the many strong points the interviewee had that could positively add to the team. The manager thought a little more about this candidate’s strong points.

Then the manager mentioned another interviewee she met before, but she didn’t like the way he wore his hair when she met him before. When our biases are worn like a “Red Badge of Courage” and “I’m right; you’re wrong,” things can go downhill very fast.

Many of us call our biases, “preferences.” However, the mistake most people make is not understanding the difference between preference and bias. A preference is choosing between inanimate objects; “I like ketchup, but I don’t like mustard.” “If I go out to eat and the waiter puts garnishes like lettuce, tomatoes or pickles on my plate, I will not eat anything on that plate!” My dad grew weary of my “preferences,” but my mom always came through.

“I prefer to date only redheads; I will only date Blacks, Whites, or within my race. I only have friends who are nice looking or have nice and fit bodies. I don’t like overweight people, because they are lazy.” These thoughts and ideas are actually biases, and they can lead to trouble when they carry over to your job.

If you are supervising people from all backgrounds, shapes and sizes, education levels and experiences, some will not fit into your ideal biases. If you lead with your biases, the way you deal with some people over others can possibly lead to trouble down the road.

The course description says, “As organizations have come to focus more and more on the value of diverse workplaces, a light has been shed on a previously hidden aspect: unconscious biases. While everyone holds these biases, which are rooted in human nature, they can work against workplace diversity. It's, therefore, important to learn how to identify and overcome these biases, both as an individual and as part of an organization. In this learning path, you'll learn about types of unconscious bias and tactics for overcoming them on the personal and organizational levels.”

As leaders, be your best you, and let your employees be their best them with your direction. Supervisors at every level are responsible to allow everyone under their authority the ability to reach their highest potential. Not only the ones who may be favored, because of your hidden biases.