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:

James Patterson on writing: Plotting, research, and first drafts

The best-selling author tells us his methods.

  • James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
  • He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
  • James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less