Many of us who have had some sort of leadership or management training or formal education would probably recognise that we have certain blind spots – or unconscious biases – that influence our lives in ways that are not directly visible to us. Fewer of us, however, have probably done an in-depth study of blind spots, how they incur and how many of them we have, and what the implications are. If one googles “unconscious bias” Wikipedia serves up a list of the most common biases’ – a wee short list of about 170 of them. When I first saw that list a number of years ago I was somewhat horrified; most of the biases I had never heard about, but I immediately recognised them as true. Not far-fetched, but just… true.
Banaji and Greenwald have written a great book showing us the deeper truth of biases, and more, very aptly called “Blind Spot”. The basis for their book is the Implicit Association Test, IAT (described in other articles on this platform), which is great for uncovering what our brain really thinks – and not what our logic (or heart) says it should think. This last point is important, as the subtitle of the book suggests: “Blind spots: Hidden biases of good people”. We may not consciously identify with different biases, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold them. The authors explain: “The ‘good people’ of this book’s title are people who, along with their other good traits, have no conscious race preferences. But even though they regard themselves as egalitarian, they nevertheless obtain an “automatic White preference” on the Race IAT. This, as we know, is no small group. Among the more than 1.5 million White Americans who have taken the Race IAT on the internet, about 40 percent show this pattern of having explicit egalitarian beliefs accompanied by the automatic White preference result of the Race IAT”.
Here is another example from the book that I find quite shocking: “The data from the gender-career IAT show that about 75 percent of male respondents display the automatic gender stereotype of male = work and female = family. Leading them by a little, 80 percent of women show the same automatic stereotype!”. These are just few examples,
The implications for us as leaders are far-reaching. From diversity and inclusion practices, to how we hire and recruit, to how we interact on a daily basis – and on and on. Being truly authentic means looking at and embracing our blind spots. If we can meet the enquiry with courage and – more importantly – without shame, we can learn invaluable things about ourselves that will make us much more impactful through greater awareness.