Bob Randolph gave a one-day training for the National Geospatial Agency in September, 2014 on the cutting-edge subject of “unconscious bias,” sometimes labeled “implicit bias.” We Americans have traditionally believed discrimination to be conscious and intentional and have worked hard through civil rights initiatives and societal pressures to create a just and equitable society and eliminate conscious bias in the United States. However, research in the past two decades strongly suggests that the problem is not overt bias or racism, but the reality that people who view themselves as enlightened and unbiased hold unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory actions and behavior, especially in the work-place. For example, we routinely and unconsciously discriminate against people of below average height in allocating leadership positions in our society. William McKinley was the last person of below average height elected President (1900); 60% of all CEO’s are above 6 feet in height. We would all concede that it would be irrational to assign leadership roles in our society on the basis of height; nevertheless, we unconsciously associate height with leadership, and lack thereof with followship, and unconsciously make decisions on the unconscious assumption that there is a correlation between height and leadership ability.
The problem of “unconscious bias” becomes more unsettling, however, as we encounter more and more research demonstrating that we are “hard-wired” with danger detectors that unfairly stereotype individuals of a different color or ethnicity as people to be avoided and that this “hard wiring” can result in disparate treatment of individuals whom we view as different. Validated studies, for example, based on on-line shooter games demonstrate that participants are quicker to shoot at black men than white men. In the employment context, unconscious bias is a serious problem; in the law enforcement context, we are confronting societal tragedies. The good news is that once recognized and acknowledged, we can modify our behaviors to at least ameliorate, if not eliminate the scourge of unconscious bias.
For more information, contact Bob Randolph at email@example.com; 202-549-4904.