What Unconscious Beliefs Are Holding You Back?

Management expert Jennifer Brown on how unconscious bias can prevent your organization's ability to attract and retain talent.

The best way to motivate others in your company is to give them ownership and opportunities to help them grow. If you want to grow your business, grow your talent. But how can you do that if unconscious bias is holding you back?


You may not be aware of it, but certain judgment calls by you or your managers may be holding some of your best people back. In the latest installment of Big Think’s Edge, management expert Jennifer Brown, a diversity training consultant who works with leading companies, explains the pitfalls and strategies for dealing with unconscious bias.

Check Your Assumptions:

“There’s not an intent that’s bad that’s behind unconscious bias,” explains Brown. “It is more that we see things through our lens. And really that’s all we know unless we proactively push against that.”

But pushing past our own assumptions—our comfortable beliefs that help us make sense of the world—can thrust us into unknown territory. Brown advises accepting the discomfort and try to learn by asking more questions and making fewer statements.

Understand the Stakes:

By assuming that your female employees, for instance, would rather spend time with their children after work than attending a company dinner or accepting a travel assignment risks alienating your employees. Your talent will go elsewhere for the opportunities denied to them.

Women and young people are often the target of unconscious bias from managers. “It’s still a factor and it does impact the ability of talent,” says Brown. “I see it mostly with younger talent and also especially with diverse talent to really get ahead and move up the pipeline in organizations.”

Seemingly little decisions—based on unconscious bias—can add up and hurt an organization's ability to attract, retain, and grow diverse talent. Organizations that are diverse stand a better chance of being innovative and staying competitive. Diversity, economist Tim Harford found, also leads to better decision making.

Feedback Sets You Free:

If you want to break free of unconscious bias and help others do the same then focus on feedback. “Honesty is most difficult across lines of difference,” says Brown, which is why diversity training is essential for helping organizations reach their full potential by fostering honest discussions to break past the false assumptions.

Want strategies for dealing with unconscious bias and want to learn how to recognize it in yourself and others? Subscribe to Big Think’s Edge today to gain valuable insights from Jennifer Brown and other experts:

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