Build Business Recap: Unconscious Workplace Bias

    Unconscious Workplace Bias 
    One of my favorite presentations from Build Business 2020 focused on bias, diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Stacy Bernal is a speaker, author and founder of See Stacy Speak LLC. Her presentation, “Am I a Jerk at Work?: Breaking Through Unconscious Bias” focused on recognizing our implicit biases, which we all have. She says it’s important to acknowledge this bias because we can make unfair assessments and judgements about others based on things such as religion, education, race, class, ethnicity, age, disability, gender/sexual orientation and political affiliation.

    This bias can obviously affect your personal relationships, but in a professional setting implicit bias can affect the professional development and career trajectory of others.

    Bernal said we all have an affinity toward those who are similar to ourselves. This can be based on race, gender, age, where you live or any number of other factors. But the basic premise is that we are drawn to those who are like us. 

    This matters because these affinities affect others professionally, both positively and negatively. Bernal gave an example of hiring managers unconsciously recruiting and hiring people who look similar or have similar sounding names to themselves, making organizations more homogenous. Another example was how managers treat their subordinates, giving out more praise, focusing more on the positive and offering better assignments to those they have an affinity with. On the opposite end, managers tend to question past performance more of those they have less similarity with.

    Less obvious, but bias’s that can still affect work conditions, are microaggressions - everyday slights or insults. These often are unintentional but are still hurtful to the person on the receiving end. Examples Bernal gave include touching someone’s hair without (or even with) permission which happens more to women of color (“Oh, your hair is so pretty, can I touch it?”) and routinely mispronouncing or shortening someone’s name that is difficult for you to pronounce, such as an ethnic name (“I’ll never remember that, can I just call you Sarah?”).

    Bernal also talked a lot about intent vs. impact and gave an interesting non-professional example. In Arizona, cheerleading moms drew up a plan to limit girls trying out for the cheerleading squad based on bra size. Any girl who exceeded this size were unable to try out. The intent was to help stop the sexualization of the girls on the squad. The unintended impact would have been to limit opportunity for girls of color who on average have larger bra sizes. An attorney flagged the plan and it never got any further.

    Bringing it back to the workplace, Bernal said many things in the workplace, including policies or even design, could also have unintended consequences. It is up to us to think past the intent and also consider the impacts. Her workplace example was from when Sheryl Sandberg at Google and the only woman in attendance at high-ranking meetings. The restrooms closest to the meeting were men’s, and no one knew where the women’s restroom was located. The message being sent – intentional or not - was that women didn’t belong in those meetings.

    Bernal’s presentation touched on a few points I hadn’t thought about much and reiterated others I had heard before, but she framed them in interesting and relatable ways. If you’d like to learn more about her or watch her TEDx Talk, go to

    Reagan Branham, CPSM
    Director of Marketing
    HERA laboratory planners

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