Five benefits of challenging your unconscious biases


Bias can be traced to ancient conditioning, old fears, and inherited prejudices.
Digital generated image of multi-ethnic arms raised in the air on dark gray background.
Bias gets in the way of doing your job well. | Image source: Getty Images

It might sound counter-intuitive, but making yourself uncomfortable through confronting biases can produce long-term benefits. Though it certainly doesn’t feel like that in the short-term.

Here are some emotionally difficult matters that discourage bias awareness. Confronting biases can make you feel like a bad person. The guilt of having been unfair in the past can take a toll on you. It can also prove difficult to deal with your long-held prejudices.

While all of these can sound like dealbreakers, consider how much worse a head-in-the-sand approach can prove. Bias gets in the way of doing your job well. For example, not being able to hire inclusively hurts both your reputation and that of the organisation. Or losing diverse and valuable talent because your biases made people feel excluded and like they couldn’t belong.

Acting on assumptions, and not awareness, puts both leaders and teams at risk. Here are significant personal rewards of proactively addressing unconscious biases at work.

1. Put the past in perspective

All bias comes from somewhere, and everyone is a product of their history. Bias can be traced to ancient conditioning, old fears, and inherited prejudices. Without challenging this past framework, leaders can default to autopilot and run outdated scripts. Yet, you have the power to change and become present to your motives, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. These early remnants of life can prove dysfunctional to a leader’s current aspirations and self-image. Recognising biases helps break away from the past and resonate with your choices. Now you can know who you were, but more importantly, who you can become.

2.  Choose values over borrowed beliefs

Bias runs deeper than your espoused values. Borrowed beliefs from the past can override values and keep biases alive. Which is why despite believing in positive values, leaders can still unwittingly act unfair and exclusionary. Even so, values play a significant role in keeping you on the right track and guiding behaviour. Taking charge of beliefs and values is a useful way to move away from a hit-and-miss approach to inclusion. So, you don’t make excuses for your current behaviour or operate on hope and good faith alone. You also stay more accountable and do the tough work of choosing and living your values deliberately.

3. Succeed more with inclusion

Assuming inclusion results in leaders overestimating their ability to include others. This leadership gap can outlast and outwit good intentions. Many leaders who believe they are inclusive are in fact not seen as such by others. This feedback doesn’t reach the leader in question, so they continue to assume their self-perception to be accurate. Instead of waiting for the deception to crumble publicly, informed bias interruption helps you become an intentionally inclusive leader. With the guessing game of inclusion no longer skewing leadership choices, you are able to make the most of your diverse team and workplace. Now you don’t have to hope you are getting it right, you know you are.

4. Widen and sharpen leadership vision

A significant casualty of bias is long-term vision. This is key because what connects leadership over the ages is vision. The ability to see further along, and be able to compellingly communicate that vision, has been a hallmark of effective leaders. Yet, vision shrinks in proportion to a leader’s unwillingness to confront their biases. That’s because bias narrows perspective, dilutes focus, and blinds leaders to a team’s capabilities. It can pretend to propel decisions faster, but bias retards progress and raises risks. Through interrupting biases leaders limit this damage and turn truly visionary. Possibilities open up, and people appear in new light, as bias no longer subverts a leader’s vision to include a diverse team.

5. Raise self-awareness and self-acceptance

Interrupting biases benefits leaders in profound ways. A great way to be true to others is to first be true to oneself. Leaders can’t genuinely include others while harbouring fear, loathing, and rejection about their own selves. When leaders set forth on the path to interrupt biases, and be more inclusive of others, self-acceptance proves an added benefit. In fact, without seeing your choices with greater compassion, openness, and acceptance, it becomes an uphill task to be inclusive of others. This liberating side-effect of bias busting can prove one of the most rewarding of all. To become truly aware of your choices helps be more confident and authentic. So, others around you can have the permission to be themselves, too.

Sonali D’silva is a Certified Professional in Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst Inc. She is the Founder of Equality Consulting, a training and advisory service for raising diversity awareness, leading with inclusion, and creating psychological safety at work. Find out more about Sonali at