Bias Consciousness of the Unconscious

Posted on May 27, 2018
by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

We all have bias’s, most we know, however many we don’t.  In the interest of context, I will share two:

I have been flying in various capacities for close to 50 years.  I hold elite status on four carriers.

In the 80’s when women were becoming more frequent occupants of the flight deck, I realized when boarding the plane, I was uncomfortable.  For some reason I had it in my head, that I was not as “safe” as if there was a problem during flight the solution would require brute strength.

This unease was not rational as evidenced by the extraordinary performance of the Southwest pilot in the recent past.  She was terrific!!!!

But it was my unconscious bias!

Another episode was after an expatriate assignment in South America, I joined a Big 4 Professional Services firm.

As a Partner we were required to take a Diversity course.  During a discussion one of the Senior Partner’s made the statement that “we treat all Partners the same”.

I thought the sentiment was odd, and noticed some of the female Partner’s looking at him in disbelief.

I decided to speak up stating, “as an expat, I was aware that I was different, culturally, linguistically, and adaptively, frankly this circumstance was exhausting”.

In the States we at long last are drawing a red line saying harassment should never be perceived as OK.  Those who have stepped up are to be applauded.

Unfortunately we are also at a point where racial and ethnic differences are being positioned as challenges to our National Security and ability to live our lives to the fullest.

On May 15th a lawyer went into a rant in a Fresh Kitchen restaurant because both customers and servers were speaking in Spanish.

He went so far as to say “this is my country and my next call is to ICE”.

This behavior is ignorant on uncounted levels!

In May of 2016 Discussion Partner’s authored a book, Executive Advice to Children-Don’t Repeat My Mistakes!

The saying “timing is everything” has merit as one of the book’s Executive interviews highlighted the phenomenon of unconscious bias.

DPC thought it would be useful to share this interview’s insight as we in the US sort through our decisions regarding degree of tolerance for those who are “different”.

Executive Advice to Children-Don’t Repeat My Mistakes! Chapter & Executive Interview (May 2016) -What Does A Liberal Do When He Finds Out He Is a Racist?

It has been a difficult period for tolerance in the United States.  Our political landscape clearly is anti-immigration to the point of building walls to “keep them out”.

Police relations are strained with comedians venturing, “the only way to avoid being shot is a. don’t wear a hoodie, b. don’t be big, and don’t be Black” and somehow we think this is funny!

It is easy to be sardonic when we hear the words “Black lives matter” and respond “All lives matter”. Yet our reality is much different.

Years ago there was a TV series L.A. Law which some of you are old enough to remember, if not there is always Hulu.

In one episode to compel a judge to recuse themselves from a trial of Black defendants, the lawyers presented him with statistical evidence that his decisions and sentencing outcomes were blatantly racist.

When presented with such evidence, one would expect this person, to be defensive.

In the episode, the Judge did the right thing, he recused himself. He was self-aware enough to know he was not self-aware, and his unconscious bias had been influencing his decisions!

Intolerance is ugly, as this chapter is being written the comments of Pope Francis characterizing the desire to build walls as “Un-Christian” and said commentary being referred to as “disgraceful” frame our next feeble attempt at deflective humor “who would you vote for President”.

The authors started with the premise that we are all intolerant in some ways, this is not part of our DNA, and it is learned behavior.

The question before us was two-fold a. how did learn your self-image was delusional and b. what do you do when you are faced with your sub-conscious intolerance?

We were fortunate to find an Executive who was willing to share his experiences. What is of particular interest in this interview is that this Executive held public office in the past and was known as an advocate for tolerance on multiple issues.

Executive Interview-Former Congressman

During my formative years I was privileged.  Consequently my personal philosophy and points of view about race relations, immigration, and other issues were based on reading, discussions, not experience.

I always thought of myself as tolerant regarding people who were different whether it is gender, race, political orientation, sexual preference etc.

Unfortunately I was wrong….

I was giving a speech out of state and got lost on the way back to the airport.

This was in the days before iPhones so lost meant lost.  I had someone with me who was driving the rental car.

We wandered into a not so nice neighborhood and stopped to get our bearings.  I noticed 3 young men of color not far away whom were clearly aware of our presence.  We were scared! They started walking toward us and in an attempt to drive away we crashed the car.

They kept coming actually now running…when they got to us they said, “are you guys ok”, and “do you need some help”?  They could not have been nicer…they got us to the airport, arranged for the Rental Car Company to come…”they were great”.

Flying back home, I could not help thinking about how scared I was, and why? Clearly it was the neighborhood, the circumstances, and more importantly that the three young men were Black.

I asked myself the question “even in a rough neighborhood if they were white. dressed in khaki’s wearing IZod shirts, would I have reacted the same way”?  

Clearly not….

When I look back on that event I realized that even with a narrow definition of the word I am really a racist.  It shook my self-image and I try to be mindful that is “who I am, not who I thought I was”.

“The question before me at that time is how I channel this awareness minimizing the damage it can cause, and maybe even using the awareness to do some good”.

What got my attention though was when I relayed what happened to others, their response was disheartening as they commented, “I would have been scared too”. Also “you got lucky”.

2018 Unconscious Bias Suggestions

  • We are all intolerant of some things or many things
  • When we are confronted with our true beliefs or tendencies we can behave in 1 of 2 ways, ignore it, or attempt to channel it in appropriate ways
  • Self-Awareness is an asset, self-respect an aspiration, self-indulgence borderline ignorant, self-direction in a positive way an obligation even when it means challenging your self image

Different, means just that, not better or less then good.  In many societies, particularly now the US, we are almost at the point of taking sides in some us vs. them, context.  We should all put on our adult big person pants and confront what is a self-defeating societal tenant

We can all be surprised by learning that we are not who we envisioned ourselves to be.

The question is, does this self-awareness compel thoughtfulness or if inappropriate confrontation?  If not then shame on us!

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