Unconscious bias or conscious bias?

Author:Grover, Earl G., Jr.
Position:Executive Memo - African Americans in corporate America

I was recently invited to serve as a speaker to offer my views on diversity and inclusion. The focus of the session: unconscious bias.

A number of diversity officials, especially those currently grappling with the lack of inclusion within their corporate ranks, have used the term to suggest that's the reason why many of their companies continue to be largely male and pale. They argue that those who make decisions on hiring, promotions, procurement, and daily interactions have prejudices they are unaware of and that these impressions occur automatically and outside of their control.

During my session, the moderator was trying to make the point with a much-publicized example from my life. Roughly two decades ago, I was detained and searched by two New York City police officers who had identified me as a suspect on the Metro North Railroad train during my early morning commute to work. Other than sharing the same race, the suspect in no way resembled me--he was nine inches shorter, had a slender build, was casually dressed, and sported dreadlocks. The moderator preferred to view this incident as an example of unconscious bias. I countered: No, this is a perfect example of conscious bias in which one experiences racial profiling at its worst. Something routinely faced by black men regardless of age, profession, or economic status.

As BLACK ENTERPRISE continues to place a bright spotlight on corporate D&I--in fact, in this issue, our editors developed our annual, expanded roster of the leading diversity executives--we find it is imperative for major companies to stop making excuses for their continued resistance to embracing diversity in executive suites, boardrooms, and supply chains. The creation of the concept of unconscious bias is nothing more than a means of allowing white male corporate decision makers to feel more comfortable about their continued participation in exclusionary practices.

African Americans represent less than 3% of corporate senior managers, cannot be found on the boards of more than 30% of the nation's largest companies and own a mere...

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