Bright Minds: Unconscious Bias

Week number two and another thought-provoking Bright Minds. This week’s meeting centered around the concept of unconscious bias and its impact on decision-making, business innovation, and philanthropy. What’s unconscious bias you ask? Well let me tell you.

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. Our brains have evolved to process millions of pieces of data outside our conscious awareness. To cope with all the data we encounter on a daily basis our subconscious takes shortcuts, this is unconscious bias.

As you can imagine, unconscious bias trickles into practically every phase of life. But specifically, how does this concept apply to decision-making, business innovation, and philanthropy you ask? Well a myriad of ways actually. Here are the cliffnotes.

Business Innovation & Decision-Making

Data from Echoing Green U.S. fellowship applicants, show that black applicants receive half as much funding after 1-2 years than their white counterparts. Going to ‘top-tier’ universities obviously assists anyone aspiring to start their own business; however when the racial makeup from ‘top-tier’ schools skews white, it immediately tips the scale in their favor. The consequences are that the majority of business leaders come from a homogenous demographic, leading to a lack of diversity in innovation. One solution discussed was blind vetting, without names or photos in its first round of evaluation, to help reduce unconscious bias.

This applies to grants too. The quandary here is that many black and hispanic entrepreneurs, are better connected to and aware of what is needed to solve many of the causes that white leaders attempt to drive. 3 ways funders can practice grantee inclusion:

Hire consultants for strategy, design, or execution positions
Fund intermediaries to include grantees via regranting programs. This happens when a larger funder is seeking to reach grassroots organizations that are otherwise too small to qualify for funding.
Make grants to nonprofits seeking to advance the practice of grantee inclusion as an metric in itself.

Implicit Bias and Its Role in Philanthropy & Grantmaking

A frequently cited study found that female postdoctoral fellowship applicants had to be [two-and-a-half] times more productive than the average male applicant to receive the same competence score. Women’s groups continue to be underfunded, and only a small percentage of philanthropic monies go to organizations led by racial minorities. We must continue to look for better interventions and engage the structure and social context where decisions are being made to minimize implicit bias and impact the world for the better.

Unconscious bias is a real problem facing so many facets of our society. It’s critical that not only VC firms, grant funders, and the philanthropy space use this knowledge to help move us toward greater inclusion and fairness, but that all individuals do their part in ensuring everyone is at the decision making table.

Leave a Reply