Psychologist and business coach Jon Atkins, of Pearn Kandola LLP, teamed up with IP Inclusive this month to provide a two-part webinar on unconscious bias.  It was an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience.  Part I dealt with the basics: what types of bias occur and why, and the value of tackling them so as to create a more inclusive working environment.  Part II illustrated real-world biases through a couple of case studies, and provided concrete suggestions for avoiding bias in our day-to-day work.

These biases aren’t typically borne of malice or stupidity.   The clue’s in the name.  Unconscious bias arises because our brains make sense of the world using pattern recognition, and because the patterns we recognise are based on experience and precedent and the perceived wisdom of others in our community.  So, unless you’re the only person ever whose brain doesn’t process information in this way, we strongly recommend you find out more about unconscious bias, and how it impacts on you and the people you interact with.

In the meantime, here’s a more light-hearted look at the subject, by way of an excerpt from the Almost-Completely-Secret Diary of a CIPA President.  Enjoy!

19 April 2016

I listen to a recording of yesterday’s webinar on unconscious bias.  The speaker doesn’t mince his words; he tells us that we are all biased and it is about time we got on and did something about it, instead of just saying yeah yeah everyone’s equal round here, even the oddball we told to work in the basement.

He says that we must each go away and think about what we are going to do to make ourselves less biased and our workplaces more inclusive.  He sounds like he means it.  Inspired, I find the pen and paper I was accidentally sitting on, and write down ten things I must do to unbias myself.

    1. I must not assume that all CIPA Council members are grumpy, detail-obsessed pedants, because this is Stereotyping.  Some of them are perfectly reasonable people.  It is just a shame that perfectly reasonable people tend not to shout as loud as grumpy, detail-obsessed pedants, thus distorting my perceptions of the prevailing mood.


    1. I must stop thinking that women are better at being nice to people, because this is also Stereotyping, and more importantly because it means that women end up doing all the grotty jobs, like pouring tea and sourcing biscuits and being a shoulder for other people to snivel on.  I will forthwith stop buying biscuits for everyone and pretending it is the Pixies who did it; this simply reinforces the stereotype.  Ditto washing the toothpaste dribbles out of the sink and other unpleasantries.  There are no Pixies, folks.  Get over it.


    1. I must not act cross and scary when people disagree with me, because this can lead to Groupthink.  I must remember that people are not necessarily stupid just because they argue back: it may be that I simply need to explain myself louder.  And I’m sure it is still possible to get things done even if everyone on the committee disagrees with everyone else on the committee about where to start.  Honest.


    1. I must not go looking for evidence that my views are right.  This is called Confirmation Bias.  I must do what everybody else does, and go looking for evidence that I am stupid.  Of which there is plenty, so this particular change ought to be easy to implement.


    1. I must not recruit in my own image.  Like, to committees and task forces and stuff.  Quite apart from anything else, it would be bad news indeed if CIPA became full of straw-shedding numpties from the Wess Curntry.  Instead, I must go looking for people who are not like me – rational, dignified, erudite people who think carefully before they launch into a new project and worry about what might go wrong, sometimes for years.  I must make these people feel included, in the projects that aren’t happening for fear of what might go wrong.


    1. I must not form Ingroups – of people I know and understand – and Outgroups – of people who scare the pants off me.  I must put everyone in the Ingroup, and then I can be perpetually scared and confused.  There are parallels here, I feel, with my email Inbox and Outbox, the former being scary and confusing and the latter containing nothing of value.


    1. I must refrain from judging people on First Impressions.  People are not always as cross as they look.  And just because they begin by shouting at me for being outrageous and undignified, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are grumpy, detail-obsessed pedants.  (See above re Stereotyping.)


    1. I must stop spending time with people I like.  I must find people I don’t like and invite myself to their meetings, because this demonstrates Inclusive Leadership.  Which is exactly what happened when I joined Council, really.


    1. I must be more generous with my connections.  I must introduce them to one another so as to build more Inclusive Networks.  I must not be worried that they will then gang up and overthrow me.  In fact, I will be happy to help them overthrow me.  I could do with more time at home.


  1. I must try not to make important decisions under conditions which make me vulnerable to my Unconscious Biases.  Conditions which make me vulnerable in this way include being tired or stressed, or under pressure to make a decision, or distracted (for example by a meeting going on around me), or angry, or under the influence of alcohol.  This basically covers my entire day.  So I will have to start making decisions in my sleep.  Like anyone will notice.


I realise I have actually learnt quite a lot from the webinar.  I am looking forward to the new, inclusive me.  Bet Council is too.

IP Inclusive hopes to run further training on unconscious bias in the near future.  Watch this space…

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