Let's talk about the B-word

08 June 2018

You know, the one none of us like to admit to. The one which affects everyone’s decision making.

Bias.

Doesn’t apply to you? Behavioural science research disagrees. Our past experiences, actions and outcomes are used by our brains to rapidly sift the 11 million bits of data bombarding our brain down to about 50. Overall this unconscious decision is a good thing for example allows us to drive safely while talking to a passenger. Unfortunately by repeating past successful patterns our brains inadvertently exclude potentially better decisions and outcomes.

Bias affects our business decisions, business performance and our professionalism: our ability to act fairly, accountably and responsibly. For example research for a global asset management company looked at the decisions made by fund managers on the performance of the funds. McKinsey estimate if traders had been aware of their bias they could have made better decisions resulting in “about [an additional] 100 to 200 basis points per year for a fund manager and an extra alpha on an equity fund” That’s potentially millions of dollars missed.

Blind to our bias and predictably irrational in our decision making, is there any hope? Like any change its starts with leadership, simple steps and a programmatic approach. Tackling unconscious bias isn’t easy but we need to start by taking personal responsibility. Howard Ross, author of ‘Everyday Bias’, recommends six simple strategies we can adopt.

  1. Accept we all have bias and take responsibility to act differently
  2. Learn to observe yourself
  3. Slow down some of your decisions – gain insights by asking those with different viewpoints how they see the same situation
  4. Identify those times when you feel uncomfortable. Examine why you feel that way and learn from those insights
  5. Listen to and engage with exemplars from groups you have bias against. This will soften your bias over time as you discover you have much in common.
  6. Create opportunities to give and receive constructive feedback from others. Being aware of the perception of others enables us to understand what we did/didn’t do and to modify our behaviour.

Search CMI ManagementDirect for ‘Unconscious bias’ and you will find a number of articles and videos which provide more information about why we are biased, the impact of bias on organisational performance and individuals, simple actions you can take and some examples of how organisations are tackling unconscious bias.

As CMI members we sign up to CMI’s Code of Conduct and Practice. We agree to demonstrate the highest standards of management and leadership professionalism: competence, fairness, honesty, integrity and lifelong learning. We can only deliver on this commitment if we address our personal and institutional bias.

Recognising and addressing unconscious bias is a topic we will return to throughout 2018. Is your organisation taking steps to tackle bias? Are there specific areas where you would like to know more? Share your thoughts with the CMI Southern team.

Blog by Jo Strain,  CMI Southern Inclusion Champion and CMI Women Lead