Understanding Bias

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Overview

Bias is one of the most important concepts for you to understand as a person and regardless of the type of work you do (e.g., employee, volunteer, leader, and manager). It impacts everything you do personally and professionally, and we do mean everything. For example, when you eat fast food, where do you go most of the time, and why? Your answer contains the biases you have toward favorites (e.g., curly fries) and the biases you have against those you do not like (e.g., fish)!

You might be wondering what created your fries or fish (or neither) bias. Bias is a prejudice or preconception for or against something, someone, or some group.

While we love a great educational definition, let’s break it down a bit. As you can tell from above, the term bias has negative connotations to many people. This is unfair in a practical sense because a person can be biased favorably toward something or someone. For example, are you a dog or cat person? If you are one or the other, it does not mean you necessarily do not like the other, it just means you have favorable tendency toward one of them. And sometimes, how do you choose?

A picture shows a brown dog sleeping on the ground with its back against a wall. A much smaller brown-and-white cat is also asleep on top of the dog.

Source: mgs/Moment/via Getty Images.

However, the reason we are here is to talk about the many negative ways bias can impact our lives. Just as we mentioned your fast food biases, your inclination toward one thing or another, based on a negative stereotype bias, creates many problems for you as a person and employee or employer—you lack a neutral viewpoint in a way that may result in prejudiced decision making and unfair treatment. This section will help you recognize, understand, and manage your negative biases so your actions and decisions come from a place of facts and logic rather than skewed inclinations.

Another reason that understanding bias is so important now is that COVID-19 brought to light stereotypes and biases that have created racism, inequality, and exclusion of citizens, and in the case of the United States, this has been a recurring theme for hundreds of years. Lack of health care, lack of jobs providing time off for illness or family illness, low wages, limited access to child care and educational opportunities, occupational segregation, and unequal pay—the list of areas where negatively biased decisions and programs create inequitable treatment of Americans across gender and racial lines is enormous.

In this skill, we will dig a little deeper into how biases form and how many biases are so automatically ingrained in the way we think that they are known as Implicit Biases. We will continue with discussing Equity and Diversity and Inclusion. Topics will include videos, scenarios, and links to supporting research from reputable sources.

Our goal is to help you recognize and understand those personal biases that might be holding you back and to create a more fair world for you and your organization by giving you tools to overcome them. Along the way, you will also help others overcome their biases, find how the strengths of diverse and inclusive groups benefit your organization, and work to create a level of perceived equality for all those around you.

Further Reading

Eberhardt, J. (2019). Biased: Uncovering the hidden prejudice that shapes what we see, think, and do. Viking.
Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption (Spiegel & Grau trade paperback ed.). Spiegel & Grau.
Desmond, M. (2016). Evicted: Poverty and profit in the American city (
1st ed.
). Crown Publishers.
Hannah, J. (2020). It is time for reparations: What is owed?New York Times.
Hobbs, J. (2015). The short and tragic life of robert peace: A brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League paperback. Scribner. ISBN-13: 978-1476731919.