ServSafe - What is Unconscious Bias?

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What is Unconscious Bias?

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Working in the hospitality industry, it is critical to understand how we may be affected by these biases and how we can become more aware of them.

Unconscious bias (sometimes referred to as implicit bias) includes snap judgments and stereotypes. “It’s your immediate impression of the world when not paying attention to it,” says Winter Park, Florida clinical psychotherapist Josh Magro, LMHC. In the hospitality business, our unconscious biases are something we should examine, for the sake of our relationships with co-workers and in the interest of providing our guests with the best possible experience.

Why Do People Have Unconscious Bias?

Beginning when we are children, “we make templates for the world,” Magro explains. “It’s an unconscious component of the way we learn about the world. Without really thinking about it, our unconscious may develop certain ‘rules’ about how the world is supposed to work. This can lead to snap judgments.”

Depending on our childhood experiences, we unconsciously learn what we believe a typical family setting should be. “What is a male role model? A female role model?” says Magro. “We learn about jobs, distribution of power, financial control. These things are not being told to me, they are being ingrained. I intuit what’s being modeled to me,” he adds.

By the time we reach adulthood, this assumption isn’t a deliberate thought process. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. Our conscious brains don’t waste time thinking about it, Magro says. In early human life as hunter-gatherers, snap judgment was important for survival. “It was a tribe mentality. If I stick with the people in my tribe, I’m more likely to survive,” he explains.

Why Do We Need to Be Aware of Unconscious Bias?

As you might imagine, unconscious bias isn’t conducive to success in today’s hospitality workplace — whether front of house with guests or back of house with co-workers.

We are naturally drawn to, and comfortable with, others who are like ourselves, Magro says. That’s why it is important to be aware of our potential unconscious biases when they may affect interviewing, looking at names on resumes, etc. While we may unconsciously choose a person that reflects our biases, we may make up some reason for our choice, such as “that person seems more dependable, or has more leadership skills,” when, in fact, two candidates are equal, he adds. “We simply have a template in our subconscious mind and now we are going to fill in the blanks.”

The same can happen when dealing with guests. In a corporate culture in which “the customer is always right,” employees may subconsciously feel resentful at times and seek ways to gain autonomy. People don’t want to be told how to think, Magro says. That push for autonomy may mean that a person is going to be more reactive in nature, without even consciously thinking about it that way.

That’s one reason that a key component in a leadership role, when discussing employees’ unconscious biases, is getting people’s buy in. “If I can convince someone that learning or changing behaviors is beneficial to them, rebellion resistance is no longer an issue,” says Magro. “They are invested.” It’s a goal worth pursuing when looking at our employees’ unconscious biases — and our own.