This article is more than 5 years old.

WFU’s Office of Women in Medicine and Science (OWIMS) (who manages the Career Development for Women Leaders (CDWL) program) is committed to offering continuing education programs to the senior women leaders who have graduated from the CDWL program. After surveying their graduates, they found that a majority of respondents were interested in exploring unconscious bias and its effects in the workplace. As I am a member of the CDWL Advisory Board and a 2010 graduate of the program, I welcomed the opportunity to participate in the workshop.

The facilitator was Donna M. Stringer, who some may recall from the early Gatekeeper days at WFU. To put participants in the right frame of mind, we were asked to take a few of the tests offered at the Project Implicit site. That exercise became a launchpad for small group discussion of our individual results. Because the participants were senior leaders, all came to the session with an understanding of the definition of unconscious bias and were interested in how to handle it in their workplaces (all but me were women scientists, doctors, etc.). It was interesting that one of the biases that all of them deal with is the tendency of people to address male doctors as “Dr.” but female doctors by their first names.

We viewed 2 Ted Talks – “The Danger of Silence” (which I think has been shown at a ZSR staff program) and “It’s Time to Get Under the Covers” (TedX)

Some basic points from her session slide deck:

  • An unconscious bias is a prejudice we have or an assumption we make about another person or group, based on common cultural stereotypes rather than on thoughtful judgement
  • Bias is a labor-saving device that enables us to form an opinion without having to dig up facts. Instead of using the reflective part of our brains, we go first to our automatic mind
  • Being with people who are different from ourselves often creates anxiety or discomfort which we attempt to avoid – so we prefer people “like us” – it takes less energy to process
  • Unconscious bias impacts hiring, salaries, status, preferences, etc.
  • Organizations create systems based on national norms and those that aren’t socialized into the organization’s cultural norms are expected to assimilate (assimilating consmes energy that could be used for productivity)
  • Micro-inequities have huge impact

The good news is that the conscious and rational brain has the ability to override our most primitive biased impulses – to change them:

  • identify them
  • Approach your fears
  • Increase empathy through dialog and storytelling
  • increase information
  • Change behaviors (speak up when you see something)

We were provided with a multi-page list of tips to help reduce unconscious bias and micro-inequities which I will share with our Diversity & Inclusion committee. There might be a few nuggets in there for future programming.