Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Apr 29, 2022


We all suffer from bias. Here’s how to manage bias more effectively.



Welcome to episode 135 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we look at ways to manage bias.

If you ask people to picture in their mind a doctor, most will automatically assume that the doctor is male. If you ask the same people to picture in their mind a nurse, most will automatically assume that the nurse is female. It’s true - more doctors are male, and more nurses are female. When we guess at someone’s gender based on their profession it’s like we’re using approximations and rules of thumb. We are guessing at what’s most likely. But our guesses can be wrong, and based on faulty assumptions. All of that can lead us to have biases that shape our behaviour. If I’m hiring a doctor, do I tend to dismiss female candidates? If I’m hiring a nurse, do I put males further down the list? My beliefs and assumptions then become a real problem - they can lead to bias and prejudice. Understanding how this occurs can help us to identify and manage our biases more effectively. 

A helpful framework for this is the Ladder of Inference from Chris Argyris. Here we picture a ladder that we’re climbing.

  • The ladder starts with what we observe. That’s the first rung of the ladder.
  • We then select data from what we observe.
  • We then add meanings, both cultural and personal, to that data
  • We make assumptions based on those meanings
  • We draw conclusions based on those assumptions
  • Those conclusions shape our beliefs about the world
  • We take action based on our beliefs
  • All of this loops back to influence what we observe

This process is natural and can be helpful - we need beliefs to guide us through the wealth of data and information coming our way. But it can also be problematic when it ends up with prejudice and unfair treatment. So what can we do?

First, we need to accept that we all have biases. No one is ever bias free, and it is extremely difficult to eliminate a bias completely. But we can reduce bias and we can minimise the impact of bias. To do that, we need to challenge our beliefs. How do we do that? Here are three ideas:

  1. Pay attention to who you spend time with. Most people tend to spend time with people who are similar to them. Start by going back through your calendar and noting who you’re spending time with. 
  2. Actively seek to work with people who are different to you. Broaden out your inner circle. Look around for the people who are most different to you, whether that’s culture, profession, age, gender or any other factor. 
  3. Become curious about other people. Be genuinely interested in other people and their perspectives. Just listen to understand. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but you also don’t need to argue back.

Our workplaces will be far more positive if we can effectively manage bias, and it all starts with us.