We spend a lot of time focusing on unconscious bias: the idea that all of us harbor impressions or opinions of the world and those around us that we don’t even realize. The biases may make us less likely to hire a person of color or promote a woman, for instance. Unconscious bias is a form of confirmation bias.
Science Daily offers this definition and description of confirmation bias. Basically, it’s the tendency to seek out or point to information that supports our preconceived notions and ideas. It’s at work when we look for evidence to support a proposal or opinion that we have. It’s at work when we make decisions about who to hire (we generally are swayed to those who are most like us). It’s at work when we choose which media outlets to watch or to use as evidence to support our own beliefs.
In a recent piece by Dennis Yang for Fortune in an article titled “How Unconscious Bias is Holding Your Company Back,” Yang echoes something we’ve often said: “Before you can begin improving gender equality at work, however, you need to become aware of and confront the unconscious bias at your company. It’s real, and it exists in all of us.”
Because unconscious bias, as the name suggests, is not something we are typically aware of, it’s a phenomenon we have to seek out in order to combat.
Unconscious bias has become a hot topic in recent years, and we think it’s great that the subject has been getting so much attention. But it’s also important to think of unconscious bias in the broader context of cognitive science in order to also be aware of the other mental forces at work.
Where unconscious bias is the enemy of workplace diversity and inclusion, cognitive bias is the less-subtle friend of unconscious bias. How is cognitive bias impacting your perceptions, perspectives, opinions and decisions?