Wake up to your unconscious bias

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Since I joined the Network of Executive Women last year, I’ve learned more about the subject of “unconscious bias.” But until I listened to David Wilson speak about unconscious bias at Accenture’s Minneapolis Celebration of International Women’s Day in March, I hadn’t truly considered my own unconscious bias.

Wilson, a senior managing director at Accenture, defined unconscious bias as the implicit attitudes, actions or judgments that are controlled by an automatic evaluation that happens without our awareness. We make these evaluations in less than one-tenth a second when meeting someone, unconsciously judging others and making choices from these judgments.

Our unconscious bias is shaped by our life experiences, culture, education, background and social group identity, Wilson said. In short, we’re hardwired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests.

If the retail and consumer products industry wants to benefit from diversity of thought and experience, leaders need to make a conscious effort to overcome their own unconscious bias by hiring and promoting people who don’t look, sound and act like them.

Now, I’m taking Wilson’s advice and using these three strategies to more inclusive:

1. Identify and check your assumptions about others. Be aware of your blind spots and keep them top of mind.

2. Look beyond your normal go-to people. Go out to lunch with co-workers who are different from you. Go to a networking event and talk to people you wouldn’t normally approach.

3. Get feedback from others on your bias. Ask your manager and team for feedback. Be open to the feedback, even when it may be difficult to hear.

You can learn more about your own bias by taking a free assessment offered by Project Implicit, a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are aim to educate the public about hidden biases.

Awareness is the first step toward change.

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Julie Janckila is director of corporate partnerships for the Network of Executive Women, the largest women’s leadership organization serving the retail and consumer goods industry.

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