How To Combat Implicit Bias in the Workplace

Labor and employment attorney Michael Morrison wants you to know there’s a difference between being racist and being implicitly biased.

“Racism is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” he says in this episode of The Walking Papers podcast. “Bias, on the other hand, is … the subjective preference toward a particular viewpoint or belief that prevents a person from maintaining objectivity.”

Implicit Bias isn’t Discrimination, But it Leads to it.

In this episode, the Van Kampen Law attorney expands on discrimination, sharing his opinion that the lines between discrimination and implicit bias blur when an individual becomes aware of yet indifferent to the negative outcomes of their bias. Michael also breaks down why biases occur naturally (spoiler: all of us make most decisions subconsciously); how they play out in the workplace and in the legal system; and how to overcome them.

“Implicit biases can skew talent and performance reviews, in addition to amplifying or mitigating workplace disciplinary measures,” he says. “When one has an unconscious belief, which has been molded years and years over by their lived experiences … it can have an impact on all decision making.”

Michael also elaborates on the concept of cultural humility — aka acknowledging that we all have biases and committing to reducing our reliance on them — and why it’s the first step to combating the activation of these biases.

What is Implicit Bias?

Implicit bias isn’t inherently discrimination, but it can influence behavior in ways that lead to it — Experts agree that most of our decisions are made subconsciously based on social norms, and further shaped by our personal experiences. This becomes an issue in the workplace when you make a decision in favor of one group to the detriment of others, Michael says, which is why implicit bias evidence is regularly used in employment discrimination claims (commonly in the form of expert testimony, general and specific).

Who Has Implicit Biases?

★ Everyone harbors implicit biases of some kind, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore their effects — Implicit biases make you human, Michael says, but it’s important to control whether we act on them or not. Your brain’s natural tendency toward implicit bias can be overridden through conscious and deliberate effort, so if you put in the work to be unprejudiced, you can suppress bias responses and become more objective in the workplace.

How to Avoid Unconscious Bias at Work

Don’t underestimate the power of discomfort — It’s one thing to simply accept your prejudices and train yourself to keep them out of your decision-making process, but it’s another to fully embrace everyone’s differences. Michael believes cultural collisions occur when people don’t know how to respond to difference, so he encourages everyone to get to know and appreciate differences between themselves and their coworkers.

Implicit Bias in the Workplace Podcast Show Notes

1:22 Title VII: Michael explains the importance of Title VII as a labor and employment attorney. He then offers definitions for the two types of illegal discrimination that Title VII addresses: disparate treatment and disparate impact.

3:49 Pulling out the dictionary: Michael offers a definition for implicit bias and how it relates to a fun fact: most neuroscientists say the majority of our cognitive processes occur outside of our conscious awareness.

5:36 “Most people tend to believe that nearly all of their choices are deliberate. But most of a person’s everyday life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processes that are put in motion by features of one’s environment that oftentimes operate outside of conscious awareness and guidance.”

7:21 Distinguishing between the two: Michael explains the pivotal difference between racism and implicit bias and why it’s easy for people to blur the lines between the two.

8:13 Seeing it in action: Michael elaborates on implicit bias and how it shows up in the legal system and workplace.

8:34 “Unfortunately, while the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to an impartial jury, studies have shown that members of the jury are often unknowingly influenced by biases that are present in our social and cultural norms, lived experiences by their cultures by their background — it can have an impact on all decision making.”

Using Motivated Awareness and Inclusive Integrity to Combat Bias

11:52 Addressing it: Michael offers some suggestions for how to address implicit bias in the workplace, which includes discussion about the terms motivated awareness and inclusive integrity.

12:06 “Everyone harbors implicit biases for or against something, someone or a group, point-blank, period. Having these biases don’t make you a bad person. They make you human. And it’s important to understand that.”

15:38 Getting uncomfortable: Michael explains how cultural collisions occur — because we don’t always know how to respond to difference — and why it’s important to pause and reflect on (and appreciate) what makes us different.

Address Discrimination at Work With a NC Employment Lawyer

The Walking Papers is a bi-weekly podcast by Van Kampen Law, a plaintiff-side employment law firm based out of Charlotte, NC, this podcast aims to give listeners, who are on the wrong side of some sort of situation at work, practical advice on how to turn the tables on their employers.

This podcast is just an educational resource. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting an employment attorney about your unique situation before making legal decisions.

Visit our website for more online resources and videos, or better yet, call (704) 247-3245 for a free initial intake interview so Van Kampen Law can evaluate your case.

Michael Morrison, Attorney For Workplace Issues

What he does: As a labor and employment law attorney at Van Kampen Law, Michael Morrison advises his clients on legal proceedings related to workplace issues.

Words of wisdom: “Our brains automatically do this thing where it matches a typical categorical prototype to assess its fit. So these mental shortcuts, they’re based on social norms and stereotypes that we’re all subject to. And they’re shaped through our backgrounds, our cultural environment, and our personal experiences.”

Connect With Michael on LinkedIn