In practice, diversity in coaching can mean working with people of a different gender, culture, race, faith, or sexuality, or coaching someone who is neurodivergent. Nicola James, Chartered Occupational Psychologist and CEO of Lexxic Ltd, and Cise Jalali consider the unconscious biases at play in these environments and how you can ensure a fair approach.
- In psychology, unconscious bias refers to someone having a prejudice they are not aware of towards another person, generally based on a stereotype.
- Biases can be both positive and negative, but are often detrimental to fair decision-making.
- Psychology professionals are also sensitive to unconscious biases and must take care to avoid fitting clients into different ‘disorder boxes’.
- To avoid unconscious bias compromising professional output, awareness and education of individual differences is key, as well as understanding the root cause of your bias.
Both as part of my profession, and an individual who has been identified as having dyslexia, I have spent a lot of time trying to disseminate the ins and outs of diversity and unconscious bias. My company, Lexxic Ltd, is a specialist psychological consultancy supporting and empowering neurodiversity in the workplace. It was set up due to my own experiences with unconscious biases and the lack of support for individuals with neurological differences in the workplace. The coaching I received at university helped me significantly both with my dyslexia and my confidence. Building confidence in those individuals who feel they are in a minority and different in a specific way is absolutely key to developing both inside and outside the workplace. In this article, I will examine unconscious biases, with neurodiversity as a focus, and how we can ensure a fair approach.
What is unconscious bias?
When we talk about unconscious bias in psychology, we generally mean someone having a prejudice that they are not aware of (and therefore are not in control of) towards another person based on stereotypes of them. Unconscious biases have been described by Guynn as, ‘mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes.’
Unconscious biases can vary but they are typically based on differences others have to us, such as their skin colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, disability (including hidden disabilities), but this is not an exhaustive list of types of differences. These biases cause us to make decisions in favour of one group and to the detriment of others. These can be both positive and negative biases. For example, an affinity bias can mean we are positively biased towards individuals similar to ourselves. Perception bias can also mean that, due to our stereotypes about certain groups of people, our beliefs about them tend to be preset. For example, some studies suggest that tall men tend to experience a positive bias as 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs are around 6 feet tall, which represents only 14.5% of the male population in terms of height. So, perhaps we have a positive perception bias towards tall men and their capabilities as CEOs within successful companies? Or perhaps our perception of their abilities is what makes them more successful as they fit our stereotypes of someone who will do a good job within that role?
Why would we want everyone to think the same way?
In a way, these biases have helped us in terms of evolution and the way in which we map our world. In order to ensure survival, we tend to develop schemas that help us make quick decisions. This may have worked well for us in our less developed days. However, in the present day, this no longer applies. We cannot make judgements based on predetermined and uncontrollable biases as these interfere with our objectivity and therefore with decision-making in many areas of our discipline.