Last week, I found myself in a place I’d been before but that is not familiar: jury duty. I’d received jury duty summonses twice while living in Washington, DC. Both times I found myself giving up a day to sit in a jury waiting room, never to be picked for a case. This time was different. I was chosen for a jury, but ultimately dismissed in what I can only refer to as a case of overt bias.
The concept of unconscious bias seems to be everywhere in the human resources and training industry. There doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by without someone mentioning, tweeting or blogging about it. I even included Project Implicit, the test that started the unconscious bias movement, in my first cultural tourism post 3 years ago.
Unconscious bias occurs deep in the layers of our brain. Sometimes we have no idea where these deep-seated beliefs came from or how we acquired them. The problem with unconscious bias is that, well because it’s unconscious, we are often unaware of it, and therefore unable to control it until confronted by it.
Of course now there is training to help us overcome these blind spots. Our own Connecting with Respect Training does just this and then takes it one step further by encouraging us to be more curious and respectful once these blind spots or biases are revealed.
While unconscious bias is now used to understand HR hiring decisions, promotions and even interactions, there are still places where overt biases are the norm. Overt biases are where we are aware of our biases and often use them as a way of profiling. The courtroom is a place where this type of stereotyping is still used.
As I mentioned earlier, I was recently called to jury duty and even sat on a case before getting dismissed. Why did I get dismissed? Did I have hidden biases that were revealed? I didn’t think so, but apparently the lawyer for the plaintiff thought I should be dismissed. Based on the answers I gave to the questions I was asked, I couldn’t figure out why.
All I answered were standard responses to what my occupation was, did I know anyone involved in the case, who my role model was and the word that I’d use to describe myself: curious. There was one additional question about my educational background and before I knew it I was dismissed.
Coming from the other side of the argument, I had always believed that stereotyping as part of unconscious bias was a bad practice, it wasn’t until I went to jury duty that I saw how it was used to tip the decision whichever way the lawyer wanted and clearly I didn’t fit that plan based on who I was and what my background included.