It wasn’t until Covid-19 crept into my life that I realized how much unconscious biases and viruses have in common. Now that both are in the forefront of my brain, the commonalities seem so obvious. Think about it for a minute.
How We Catch Them: We become afflicted with both biases and viruses through exposure. With viruses, that exposure comes in the form of a stray sneeze or a miss-guided encounter with a contaminated surface. In the case of a bias, the exposure takes the form of one bad experience, parents who spew biased attitudes, or a media that insists on depicting members of diverse groups as all alike.
How We Spread Them: Once afflicted with a bias (or a virus), we are sadly transformed into the source of contagion. In the case of the virus, it is our sneeze or cough that is to be feared. With biases, it’s our attitudes and behaviors that others are in danger of seeing and learning from.
How We Diagnose Them: Once caught, it takes some time for the symptoms of both biases and viruses to appear. With viruses, days may pass before we first experience the dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath that are the hallmarks of Covid-19. And that’s where the danger comes in – we don’t know we have it.
Biases are the same. We harbor them beneath the surface of our psyche ignorant of their presence until they – like the fever – manifest themselves in our distorted perceptions. These, in turn, result in faulty hiring decisions, errors in promotions, and even mistakes in how best to treat our customers. It is only then – when we see the damage they cause – that we know we are afflicted. To make it worse, it is always at that point that – because our behaviors are visible – we become contagious.
How We Cure the Virus and the Bias
Admittedly, this is where the parallel between bias and virus breaks down. At this writing there is no cure for Covid-19; it will come, hopefully, one day soon. On the other hand, there are many ways to cure ourselves of all but the most deeply-rooted biases. You can find some of them by clicking here. The rest is up to you.
The material in this post reflects the ideas expressed in Dr. Thiederman’s book 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias and in the training videos Defeating Unconscious Bias: 5 Strategies and Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations.
Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for in-person presentations, virtual facilitation, and panel participation by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to www.thiederman.com.
© copyright 2020 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
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