Unconscious Bias Lives and Breathes

None of us wants to believe that we hold onto unconscious bias.

When I am told that a bias I hold is affecting my viewpoint, I almost always initially feel defensive. My sense of myself as a “good person” interferes with my ability to look objectively at what subconscious beliefs, values and assumptions impact how I see the world and how I act.

Much is being written today about unconscious bias and the role it plays in decision-making, forming relationships, differences in compensation, community development and more. Researchers such as Brian Wellat Google and the team at Project Implicit are advancing our ability to look at our own naturally occurring bias for the purpose of creating effective partnerships at work and home.

The most immediate partnership worthy of examining for unconscious bias at Moementum is ours, the Principals of the firm.

We are business partners, a married couple, a man and woman, both white, of similar age demographic. Here are some ways in which unconscious bias plays out in our partnership:

  • When clients learned that Jim and I had merged our practices, many asked Jim what it was like for him to “work for his wife.” Would they have asked this question if we had chosen Jim’s firm’s name?
  • In meetings we have with bankers, staff almost always look first, hand paperwork first, and direct their conversations to Jim without any knowledge of the specifics of our business partnership.
  • When we face things like office moves, or desk reconstruction, Moe usually assumes Jim will take on the dismantling, truck driving, and heavy lifting, even when we have not discussed it.
  • When Jim and Moe travel together, most airline staffs address Jim first as the primary passenger.
  • Most people assume that Jim is the primary income generator between the two of us.
  • Jim and Moe often assume that Allegra, our much younger staff member, can easily handle all computer problems, before asking if it is something she actually knows.
  • Moe usually steers clear of asking clients for meetings over dinner or drinks, whereas Jim frequently does so (most of our clients are men).

While difficult to look at, we offer this examination of bias in the hopes of leading by example. A willingness to explore our own naturally occurring bias can and does enhance our ability to partner more effectively and courageously.

What unconscious biases may exist in your close partnerships?

Jim Morris