Future of work
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Mentessa Blog - Mentoring for the Future of Work

Unconscious bias? A name is enough.

München, 29.07.2019 – When British prime minister Boris Johnson wins a contest for a most offensive poem, people laugh and elect him for being natural and entertaining. He is a politician. His job is to practice diplomacy.
When model Heidi Klum dances in a torn dress laying bare her underwear people criticize. Heidi is an entertainer. Her job is to be entertaining. The situations look different at first, but at a second glance they scream #bias.
A bias is a cognitive illusion, a distorted perception of reality.
Daniel Kahnemann, psychologist, Nobel laureate, and best-selling author, attributes bias to our ability of "thinking fast". Judging a situation automatically and intuitively in order to survive and learn in a world full of information and danger. In this context, bias is a tool.
In one way or the other, we are all #biased - by our education, environment, and prior experience. For example when we expect corporates to be clumsy, startup founders young, or French to drink wine for lunch.
Compared to bias, unconscious bias is a prejudice we are unaware of. Unconscious bias is not a tool, but a pitfall, and often discussed in the context of #diversity, #inclusion, and #leadership. In regard to gender, it is judging people dependent on their sex.
A famous scientific study showed a significant influence of unconscious bias on the perceived likeability of a person. The study involved a text, an ambitious candidate profile. The text was presented with a male name to a test group, and with a female name to a control group. Other than the names both profiles were identical.
The test participants were then asked to characterize the profiles without any further information. Indeed, the candidate profiles were characterised differently, and especially associating negative characteristics with the ambitious female profile, like e.g. arrogance.
Knowing about unconscious bias is a step towards better decision making and real inclusivity. Practicing conscious abstraction of it is a whole mile further.
How to do it? Before judging anyone next time, try changing their name. This might already be enough.
Know-how Leadership