Bias Definition Part I: A Question of Kindness

Well, what did you think? Is there a bias at play in that clip or not? Here’s the definition again to help you out:

A bias is an inflexible, positive or negative, conscious or unconscious belief about a particular category of people.

In fact, judging from this definition and from what the young woman says, there is a bias lurking in her work environment.  You can spot it in the last line she says when she quotes her boss as saying, “All single mothers need a little extra help.”  (Click here if you’d like to take another look.)

The blatant clue here is the word “all” – those pesky three little letters tell the tale. Anytime we say that all members of a given group have a set characteristic we are on bias territory.  In this case, that characteristic is that all single mothers “need a little extra help.”Clip_5_snapshot

If this bias slipped past you, it might have been because of what the young lady says about her boss being so nice. From what we know, and from what she attests, he was genuinely trying to help her out. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with that, What’s wrong was that Crane – according to his own words – believed that all single mothers, every last one of them, needed extra help.

On the surface, this kind of bias might seem benign and the boss guilty of little more than being kind. If we stop and think about it, however, this brand of bias – “kind” as it is – can have serious consequences especially in the workplace. The video calls attention to one of these consequences when the young mother says, “I realize some of my colleagues resent it.”  If you put yourself in the colleagues’ place, that’s understandable since they are not the recipients of similar help.

But, the real victim here is the woman. By constantly editing her work under the false assumption that every member of her category needs special treatment, the boss is, not only costing her confidence in her own abilities, but minimizing her chances of learning new skills. This is not to say that we can’t be helpful to a given individual who is genuinely in need; the problem arises when we attribute that need to an entire group.

  • Here are some other problems that this particular brand of bias can create:
    When we hesitate to provide honest feedback, we leave a team member unable to learn and succeed and open the organization up to potential litigation.
  • When we assume groups are easily offended, we are afraid to communicate and, thereby, minimize opportunities for productive workplace relationships.
  • When we promote or hire unqualified people out of misguided kindness, we decrease their confidence and risk the creation of additional biases in the workplace.

Pretty scary, isn’t it? Click here to read more about this particularly insidious brand of bias.

Click here to preview the entire Is It Bias? training video.

If you’d like to learn how to defeat bias in your workplace, take a look at Dr. Thiederman’s new book, 3 Keys for Defeating Bias: Watch, Think, Act.


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