Address Your Unconscious Bias

Address Your Unconscious Bias to Foster DEI

We all are a product of our lived experiences. This means that our early childhood moments, moments in adolescence, coming of age times, and our adulthood experiences paint a canvas of our normalized behaviors, our expectations, and how we learn to communicate with the world around us. These lived experiences contribute greatly to the forming and cementing of our unconscious biases..

As humans, we’re wired to recognize patterns. We’ve done that since our earliest days to survive. When our brains are presented with a new situation that we haven’t experienced or someone hasn’t modeled for us, we are often paralyzed. We don’t have a pattern to follow to know how to make the decision.

To fight your unconscious biases (yes, you… 100% of us humans have biases!) start with these three steps.

Identify your unconscious bias patterns

Our brains are constantly observing and recording our experiences for our own survival. If there’s a new experience, especially one that’s scary, our brain is likely to record it and recall it at a much higher rate than a positive experience. For many folks, difficult conversations about things you don’t fully understand can evoke fear. We call this the expert effect. We feel a lot more comfortable talking about subjects we understand than we do more complex and ambiguous topics that we don’t fully understand.

This fear, if left unaddressed, can cause us to withdraw from conversations about DEI. It is that same fear of the unknown, situations we haven’t experienced yet, that may challenge what we know to be true that causes our brains to send off alarm bells. Our brain often misperceives new concepts as threats and triggers a fight or flight response from our brain’s amygdala. If DEI is new information as it is for many in the majority group (white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied), well-intentioned adults might take issue or avoid conversations about DEI because of this fear.

DEI is change. And, change can be hard for people. And be honest with yourself. How open are you to change? Do you like it, love it, just ok with it, or even loathe it? There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s about understanding yourself and your relationship with new concepts and information. It’s acknowledging that some folks might need time to process, others may be ready instantly, and others may be sitting on the fence because they’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing.

Rewrite the script on your bias

Try to now articulate some of your fears, worst-case scenarios, and your own challenges when navigating the DEI conversation. Then, consider flipping the script. Ask yourself:

  • How do I know that is true?
  • What information do I have to support that fear?
  • What is possible?
  • What if nothing changes, how will I feel?

The first two questions challenge the assumption that the fear is legitimate. The second two questions help you shift from a fear-based, fixed mindset to more of an abundance, growth mindset. For you to be able to rewrite these scripts, your brain has to visualize a future that’s positive. A future that you want. If you have had your own limitations because of your lack of diverse lived experiences, it’s time to shift the fear of what you don’t know to what you could know. That subtle shift in language is powerful. Our brains believe what we feed it.

Address your bias to help others

Want others to change? You can only change you. DEI work can be taxing because it feels sometimes like you are carrying the weight of other people’s problems. Creating space to listen when you desperately want your own voice to be heard, looking in the mirror instead of pointing the finger the other way is not easy. If it were easy to do these things, we wouldn’t need blog posts on the subject.

It’s about setting aside differences and looking instead for commonalities. If you want others to listen, listen first. If you want others to be more open-minded, be more open-minded first. If you want others to embrace DEI, model it positively for them to embrace as well. Reflect on this: what is my role in creating positive change? What kind of ally do you want to be? An ally is someone that’s helpful to someone different than themselves. Maybe that’s a neighbor, children, or friends and family. Do you want to be a better friend, a more inclusive parent or caregiver, or help your family become more open-minded?

Remember, allyship is a journey, it is not a destination. There are no shortcuts, no instant wins. It can feel like one step forward, then two steps back at times. Our behaviors are manifestations of our cumulative life experiences. Unlearning, shifting, and learning new things takes time. Our brains don’t like to change. We’re fighting primitive hard wiring. Allies do hard things. They lean into positive change and model it for others.


If you liked this article, share it with a friend, check out our Diversity Pivot Podcast for entertaining stories about inclusive leadership, or schedule time with Julie if you are interested in bringing this content to your organization.  We also have a brand new virtual self-paced Lead Like an Ally course to check out!