If you were asked to picture a CMO, what would they look like? What about a doctor, a plumber, or a teacher? Whatever picture your mind draws, it’s based on assumptions—about age, race, gender, and a slew of other factors. Even given just a job title, your powerful brain fills in the gaps to give you a full image. 

Our mind’s capacity to filter can be a wonderful thing. If our brains didn’t filter information, we’d be overwhelmed by the flood of information in our environment. But this process also perpetuates unconscious bias as well.

In our most recent roundtable with Professor Wiley Davi from Bentley University and Sheryl Daija Founder and CEO at BRIDGE, we discussed unconscious bias, how the brain works, and what CMOs can do to make their organizations more inclusive. BRIDGE is the first industry trade group focused specifically on helping organizations accelerate the rate of change around their DEI strategies.

The brain doesn’t like to sit with uncertainty. The brain likes things neat and clean and to make sense. So when there’s ambiguity, the brain is going to try to give us the information to flesh  it out or even more specifically to fill the gaps. – Wiley Davi

The two systems of the brain

  • According to Daniel Kahneman our brain operates using two systems:
    • System 1 accounts for automatic, split-second reactions (like jumping out of the way of a speeding car). 
    • System 2 accounts for conscious rational thoughts and decisions (like doing the calculation of a tough math problem).
  • Every second of our lives, our brain is processing upwards of 11 million bits of information.  
  • System 1 tries to get us to the answer the fastest way possible. Though at times efficient and always automatic, it relies on past experiences and stored data to make associations that may not always be accurate.
  • On a System 2 level, our brains process about 40 to 50 bits of information per second. We may like to think that we’re leaning on System 2 to operate rationally and deliberately, but evidence shows that our System 1 brain – our unconscious mind powerfully shapes how we view the world and make decisions.

We’re making upwards of something like 35,000 decisions a day. And so we tend to think that we’re operating out of that thoughtful System 2 most of the time, but really, what we’re discovering is that we rely  on System 1 more than we would ever imagine. – Wiley Davi

What is the goal of having this knowledge and how does this knowledge contribute to lessening unconscious bias in the workplace?

  • No matter how equitable our values and beliefs are, our System 1 brain  can introduce biases without us being aware. We make decisions based on the data stored in our brain which is based on our prior lived experiences, as well as media stereotypes and stories we’ve consumed in the past. 
  • By understanding the differences between how our System 1 and System 2 parts of our brain work, we can become more aware of our own biases (we all have them)
  • Through this awareness, we can see more clearly the relationship between our unconscious bias and our actions in the workplace including microaggressions.
  • With the awareness of our unconscious bias, we can counter its effects and make different decisions.

Learning is critical to make the changes we want to see in the world, in our communities and in our businesses. As the world evolves, we need to evolve with it, no matter how hard it is and how used to our way we are. It is this commitment to learning that equips us to unwire ourselves and become more aware of our decisions. – Sheryl Daija

➡️  CMO Club members can watch the virtual roundtable replay here.
➡️  Join your peers for an upcoming CMO Club virtual roundtable. Check out the calendar of events.