This morning, reoccurring confusion around toothbrushes got me thinking about implicit biases. You know, those automatic thought processes that aid in the efficiency and speed with which you can process information? They can sometimes leave a little to be desired on the accuracy front. For example, with the toothbrushes!
My boyfriend confessed that he, once again, almost picked up my toothbrush to use. For probably six months (at least) I have been ensuring I buy the same two, coloured toothbrushes – green and purple – as to avoid this exact confusion, but today we got to the bottom of why his automatic response is to pick up my green toothbrush – it is the ‘boy colour’! Having a purple toothbrush doesn’t compute as his first instinct after many years of conscious and unconscious teaching and learning about what it means to be a boy and girl, man and woman, masculine and feminine.
Implicit biases are also known as implicit social cognition, and essentially refer to the stereotypes or attitudes that affect our understanding, actions and decision making that occurs unconsciously. Without these cognitions I imagine we would spend large chunks of time simply sitting immobile trying to work through every individual piece of data being thrown our way and what it means to the broader picture. So, these biases are necessary to enhance our cognitive functioning and overall productivity – but they can be problematic!
Through many years of development and focus on anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity in workplace, I would like to think we have made massive headway against conscious discrimination and explicit restriction of opportunities for employees. There is still a way to go before the attitudes of business owners, managers and colleagues reflect what most modern employers and employees know to be the legislative expectations in these areas. A large part of shifting these long-held beliefs is working on challenging our unconscious thinking when making decisions within our workplaces (and of course, our lives more generally).
I am excited to learn more about implicit biases and how we can work to update these thought processes when I attend the 2018 SHRM conference – the biggest HR conference in the world!! While at the SHRM conference I’ll be attending a session by Paul Meshanko of Legacy Business Cultures. I doubt that Paul will talk ‘boy and girl colours’ but will be sharing tips on how to chip away and begin to challenge these mental shortcuts to ensure more accurate and fair interpretations of information, situations or people.
Photo by Bishka Nguyen
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