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Are You Biased?

With all the talk about the “Bradley Effect,” and racial and ethnic bias around the presidential election, an article in the Wall Street Journal compelled me to perform a bias self-check. 

The tests referenced in the article are hosted on Harvard University’s site.  A method is presented that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short. There are actually 15 tests in all.  Here is a sampling:

  • 2008 Presidential Election IAT. This IAT requires the ability to recognize images of John McCain and Barack Obama. This IAT often reveals an automatic preference for either Obama or McCain.
  • Asian American. This IAT requires the ability to recognize White and Asian-American faces, and images of places that are either American or Foreign in origin.
  • Gender – Career. This IAT often reveals a relative link between family and females and between career and males.
  • Skin-tone. This IAT requires the ability to recognize light and dark-skinned faces. It often reveals an automatic preference for light-skin relative to dark-skin.
  • Disability. This IAT requires the ability to recognize symbols representing abled and disabled individuals.
  • Sexual Orientation. This IAT requires the ability to distinguish words and symbols representing gay and straight people. It often reveals an automatic preference for straight relative to gay people.
  • Age. This IAT requires the ability to distinguish old from young faces. This test often indicates that Americans have automatic preference for young over old.
  • Race. This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.
  • Arab-Muslim. This IAT requires the ability to distinguish names that are likely to belong to Arab-Muslims versus people of other nationalities or religions.
  • Weight. This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of people who are obese and people who are thin. It often reveals an automatic preference for thin people relative to fat people.

I thought about the ramifications of bias for sales leaders: the impact on relationships with salesreps, superiors, customers, and business partners.  Diversity training is one thing.  Getting a measure of your own prejudices and biases (positive or negative) anonymously is another.

Is bias really a problem for sales leaders?  From my perspective, yes it is for some.  I’ve seen it demonstrated again and again in subtle as well as overt ways.  

Anyone genuinely interested in leadership must understand themselves in this regard.  This is a good place to start.

Photo: © Anyka – Fotolia.com

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