If you have a brain, you’re biased

biased brainA very provocative statement. Don’t you think?

And if it is true that our brains are naturally biased, how can leaders create an inclusive and diverse workforce? David Rock, Director and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, challenges leaders with the above proclamation based on current work in neuroscience. In addition, he questions the value of current diversity and bias training programs that focus on education and awareness, because most of our biases are unconscious and automatic. Our brains create cognitive shortcuts. These shortcuts help us quickly take in all the information bombarding us and help us make decisions without overloading our brains. The problem is these unconscious shortcuts lead to biased behaviors that we are not even aware of.

Leaders who are striving to build an inclusive and diverse workforce run straight into the unconscious human bias that all people instantly sort each other into their “in-group” or their “out-group.” We automatically perceive those who are similar to us, our in-group, more positively. Rock and other researchers in neuroscience propose that these unconscious biases are resistant to education and awareness training and need to be tackled with mitigating strategies such as:

  • creating shared goals between people
  • encouraging teams to develop shared identity
  • facilitating low risk conversations and group interactions across race, gender, age, expertise, education and other factors
  • taking time for group interactions that focus on sharing stories and discovering unknown similarities

These mitigating strategies can slow down and derail our automatic shortcuts and help to decrease unconscious bias.

Todd Thorsgaard



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