We can all agree our personal background (how we were raised, our education, etc.) helps to shape our moral and ethical behavior as we get older. For example, many people pride themselves on the work ethic they were taught as a child as they grow into adulthood. Or that they were raised to value their integrity and not to compromise it. These are both great examples of how our upbringing has shaped us in positive ways to be better members of society.

Although I have reflected on this personally in the past, I was not aware that what I was reflecting on was what is more commonly known as unconscious bias. Bias, of course, is having a prejudice either in favor of or against some thing, person or group compared to another. Have you ever taken a moment to consider how your upbringing could have created bias in you? More specifically, perhaps some bias you don’t even realize you have?

I have to be honest, I have not thought about this much in the past. However, I recently was able to attend the Society’s Leadership Cabinet/Emerging Leaders Alliance session where Allison Manswell, with Cook Ross, presented on the topic of “Unconscious Bias.” I hadn’t really been exposed to this topic prior to the meeting. What I learned was that in a very brief manner of speaking, “Unconscious Bias” refers to a bias we are unaware of, which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brains making fast decisions without us consciously slowing down the decision-making process.

As I started to look into this topic, I was amazed at the amount of research that has been done. One of the most interesting things I came across was a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that hurricanes with female names have a much higher death rate than those with a male name. The research determined the reason behind this was that people unconsciously associated a female named hurricane to be gentler and less violent, so they did not take the warnings as serious as they did with a male name. I also found the following exercise in the Journal of Accountancy that is interesting and focuses more on unconscious biases in CPA firms: Take the test: What are your unconscious biases?

What potential unconscious biases might you have, and how are they impacting the decisions you are making? Is this a concept you’d like to explore further in order to get a better understanding of your thought process for making decisions, or the thought processes of coworkers, clients or employers?

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