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We would all like to believe that we are not biased.

But surprise, we are all biased. The second we say or think “I don’t like…” whatever follows is a negative bias and contrary if we say ”I like…” whatever follows is a bias in favor of something. Both statements can be harmless as we are just citing our feelings.

Understanding unconscious and implicit Bias: The first step to attaining workplace equality

Where the rubber meets the road with challenging results is when unconscious bias or implicit bias enters. Let’s examine the difference between these types of bias.

Unconscious or implicit bias?

These terms describe broadly similar biases and are often used interchangeably. They do, however, have slightly different meanings.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.

Implicit bias questions the level to which these biases are unconscious especially as we are increasingly aware of them.

Once we know that biases are not always explicit, we are responsible for them. We all need to recognize and acknowledge our negative biases and find ways to mitigate their impact on our behavior and decisions ( › unconscious-bias-and-higher-education).

Dig deeper, the surface is not the whole story

Herein lies the danger of unconscious or implicit bias: they can be in direct conflict with our goal of positive influence! This could be an important piece of the puzzle that is missing for many who want to see change with workplace racial injustice. We might need to look under the surface of our spoken word and look at our observable behavior.

Let’s take an example. A white person is asking for change which allows for inclusion, equality, equity, etc., and yet they would not support an interracial marriage of a family member. Is there unconscious or implicit bias here? The unconscious can be a power-packed enemy of the conscious resulting in mixed messages and the destruction of good intentions.

Learn to spot bias and change the conversation

Consider these conversations:

Rachel says, “I don’t mind if my son or daughter marries a different race. I just worry that they will have a difficult life.”


Rachel says, “I don’t mind if my son or daughter marries a different race. I know they will be able to face the challenges ahead” 

Are both statements supportive? Or are both showing implicit bias?

Now consider this:

Rachel says, “I’m excited my son or daughter are getting married, they will succeed in the challenges ahead of them” 

Or consider this:

Rachel says, “I’m excited my son or daughter is getting married.” 

Which do you consider a fully supportive statement?

Now let’s bring the discussion to the workplace:

Tony says, “I’m excited to be working with Jim even though he is black. It just means that Jim worked hard to get where he is and deserves the promotion unlike Lebron, Jameis and the rest of his type in the company (also black).”


Tony says, ‘I’m excited to be working with Jim even though he is black. It just means that he worked hard to get where he is and Jim deserves the promotion, but the work may be over his head“.

Now, let us consider this:

Andrew says, “I’m excited to be working with Jim. We need some blacks at the senior level in our company. I think it may be difficult for him to get adjusted to our way of doing business.” 

At first thought, you might hear the excitement from Andrew about Jim being promoted. The question is…is he truly supportive? Do we really know?

These examples can be identified way too easily as bias. Now, think of all of the things that give you a feeling of disconnect or queasiness as people speak or as we used to call it “double talk.” This may very well be due to their voice indicating one thing while their implicit bias communicates something very different.

Where is the unconscious bias in your life? How does it show up in your communication with others you are trying to influence?

About CB Bowman-Ottomanelli, MCEC, MBA, BCC, CMC

CB Bowman is named the Global #1 Coach for Increasing the Quality of Coaching; nominated for Thinkers50, and in 2020, she joined Marshall Goldsmith’s MG100 Coaches. She is the CEO of CB Bowman Consulting which houses Workplace Equity & Equality (WEE). WEE focuses on a no blame, no shame approach to solving workplace social justice issues, and the Association of Corporate Executive Coaches which supports master level corporate executive coaches in being enterprise wide business partners to their clients; both located in Colorado.

If you enjoyed this article, follow her on on her various CB LIVE! Challenges of the C-Suite; Workplace Equity & Equality shows series on LinkedIn Live; LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and You-tube. Contact CB Bowman Consultants ( consulting, speaking engagements, and coaching engagements at