487: Bias

A Thousand Things to Talk About
487: Bias

Have you ever experienced bias that negatively impacted you?

Full episode script

I love librarians. I know that seems like a bit of an odd statement, given the question — but one of the best and simplest breakdowns I could find on the types of bias was from the American Library Association. Quote:

“When it comes to bias, there really isn’t any good—it’s just the bad, the ugly, and the sometimes unacknowledged.  While we all probably know what bias is, we probably haven’t taken the time to really address its effects in the workplace and to look at ways to eliminate it.

It’s important to note that biases can be positive (all librarians are well-read) or negative (all librarians lack fashion sense).  They are usually personal, developed through individual personal experiences or environments. They’re also broad generalizations that often limit our experiences with individuals—and this is where they can lead to problems in the workplace.

“Bad” bias is what keeps people out of our personal circles and our institutions. The “ugly” is probably the easiest thing for us to identify. The “ugly” are the ultimate, the generalizations that can’t be proven. The “unacknowledged” can seem positive. They can be self-directed. They can masquerade as helpfulness. They can seem logical. The “unacknowledged” lead to all of the regular problems of bias—alienation, limited opportunities, and underestimation—and because they aren’t acknowledged and addressed they can perpetuate and spread.“

Experiencing bias on any level can be frustrating and exhausting. There’s quite a bit of research out there about the psychological and physiological impacts of experiencing bias on either the short or long term. A shortened list provided in the book Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults includes:

Evoking feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, bitterness, helplessness, and hopelessness and a desire to lash out, which in turn can elevate depressive symptoms and anxiety.

Higher rates of suicide attempts

Increased blood pressure, elevated fasting glucose, and increased plasma lipid levels, which forecast cardiovascular problems

increased inflammation and compromised autoimmune functioning

Low birth weights and higher rates of preterm deliveries

And much, much more.

Basically, it’s logical – experiencing bias is a stressful event, and when you start layering stressful events, there’s a number of negative reactions.

There’s also many ways to address bias – in both the short and long term. Returning again to the librarians, their suggestion of the six steps to take includes:

  • Reflect
  • Confront
  • Engage
  • Commit
  • Maintain connections
  • And Discuss

What strategies do you use to identify and address bias experienced or observed? And what has your experience been?

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.