When YouTube originally launched the video upload feature for iOS, upwards of 10% of videos were uploaded upside-down. Developers were baffled. What went wrong? Did users just not know how to record videos correctly?
Unconscious bias at play
Trouble was, engineers failed to consider a large part of the population in their design process. They inadvertently created an app that worked largely for right-handed users. They never considered the left handed users, and the fact that phones rotated 180 degrees when held in a user’s left hand.
With every decision we make, the conscious and unconscious parts of our mind are at play, and sometimes they’re at odds. Most of the time, unconscious thinking wins and informs our decisions - 98% of the time to be exact.
Thanks to their unconscious biases, the primarily right-handed developers created an app that worked best for people like them. They had excluded the needs of left-handed users, and built a worse product because of it.We’re naturally predisposed to favor similarity and reject difference – this causes exclusion. And, exclusion is powerful. The act of excluding others can cause more damage than overt harassment. In fact, when we feel excluded it triggers the same part of our brain as physical pain.
So, what can we do?
Overcoming the unconscious tendencies that cause us to exclude those who are different and instead promote an inclusive culture at work takes effort, but it’s not insurmountable. First, we must be open and curious about difference whilst accepting and valuing it. And we must lead the way through our own behavior. Here’s five ways you can challenge your unconscious bias:
1. Choose evidence, not instincts. Fair decisions are grounded in fact. Set clear criteria upfront, gather evidence from a variety of sources, and evaluate it against the original criteria to avoid bias tipping the scales. Do a self-test. Ask, would I be confident explaining my decision to a jury?
2. Bring others in. The key to inclusion isgetting others actively involved and engaged. There is a world of differencefrom being invited to a party versus being asked to dance at a party. At work, this may be the difference between inviting someone to a meeting versus specifically asking for their opinion in the meeting.
3. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Empathy is the most effective way of picking up on exclusion. Prepare your mind by considering how the person exposed will feel. To start, recall how you felt when you were excluded from an event– this will make you more sensitive to noticing it.
4. Take a stand. Step in to support people when they’re at risk of being excluded. Remind yourself that you don’t want tothink, “I wish I’d said/done something” later on. Use this to spring into action when it counts.
5. Recognise your bias. Are you unintentionally excluding others? Recognise when you’re ignoring someone’s input, turning away when someone is speaking, or organising social events that assume certain interests. Stop yourself and chose to act differently. Reach out so that everyone feels involved.
Final words of wisdom
We all fall prey to unconscious thinking but, that doesn’t give us a free pass. It does mean we need to work a bit harder at monitoring our thoughts and understanding the unconscious forces that steer our decisions. Only then can we take a step towards inclusion: by not only noticing difference, but valuing differences in others.
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