On August 29 and 30, leaders throughout UAB Medicine gathered for workshops on unconscious and implicit bias, led by Lenora Billings-Harris, a world-renowned expert on dealing with bias in the workplace. Deans, department chairs, health system executives, and other key leadership members gathered in Finley Hall to discuss the internal workings of the human mind and how they play into everyday decision-making.

“Diversity is simply who is on the team,” Billings-Harris explained to a full room of UAB Medicine leaders. “Inclusion is who gets to play.”20170829 143617

She explained that unconscious bias – the internal preferences, frameworks and perceptions that frame the way each individual views the world – aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, the ability to make quick judgments was essential to survival throughout human evolution. However, unconscious bias becomes damaging when we assume that the judgments we make based on preferences, of which we’re unaware, reflect objective reasoning.

The business world is replete with examples of excellence achieved through diversity of thought – but the term “diversity” carries with it uncomfortable baggage, Billings explained. People often think of affirmative action or quotas, when in reality it isn’t about either of those things. Increasing diversity increases the types of perspectives around the table, which can provide fruitful turf for new ideas and concepts to take root.

However, as Billings-Harris noted, we tend to reach out to people who remind us of ourselves. This isn’t a conscious choice people make; it is instinctive and natural. It is for this reason that we must often force ourselves to slow down and make more methodical, conscious choices.

Since it’s human nature to make snap judgments about others based on everything from the strength of their handshake, to their height, to their regional accent, slowing down and recognizing the role that bias plays is essential to making decisions that are less biased and more likely to bring the best people to the table.

Billings-Harris will follow up these initial sessions with leadership with more detailed discussions in the coming months, including practical, actionable tools for confronting and overcoming bias.