Breaking Bias

The renewed focus on inclusion these days is rooted in increased evidence that organizations that become more diverse, at all levels, increase sales, drive innovation and reduce turnover.

My experience has shown me that the more the faces around the table look different from one another, the greater the likelihood we will hear perspectives and approaches that maximize our success and more often lead us to breakthrough solutions.

And yet, we continue to struggle with increasing the variety of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation in our workforces.

Only 5 percent of CEOs in the U.S. are women, despite the fact that women make up 51 percent of the population.  Fewer than 1 percent of CEOs in the U.S. are African American, while African Americans make up 13 percent of the population.

What role does bias play in this mismatch?  From afar, it may be easy to conclude that bias plays a huge role.

The problem is that many of us, including those of us responsible for hiring and promotion, don’t believe we have biases.  We can’t break bias if we don’t acknowledge that we harbor them.

If you haven’t visited Harvard’s Implicit Project, you may be surprised, perhaps shocked, at what biases are simply unconscious for you.  You can find a variety of online tests at: (

When doing the Harvard implicit tests, you are asked to quickly sort words into categories that are on the left and right hand side of the computer screen by pressing the “e” key if the word belongs to the category on the left and the “i” key if the word belongs to the category on the right.

Put simply, the Implicit Project measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy).

Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington, is credited with the early research around the term “unconscious bias”.  In essence, unconscious bias results in paired associations we make in our mind: “teachers are women” or “nurses are women”.

In Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams, Stefanie K. Johnson provides us with her ABCs of breaking bias: Admit It, Block It and Count It.

Moving from unconscious bias to conscious bias is the starting point for developing strategies and implementing actions to increase diversity and inclusion across our teams.