Dialogue Series Event Recap: Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On Oct. 11, the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate hosted its BMC Dialogue Series (#BMCDS) conference on the University of San Diego campus. The event, formerly known as the Women in Real Estate (WIRE) conference, addressed the topic “Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.” Unconscious biases penetrate a wide-range of our society, from hiring decisions in the workplace to electing officials to referee calls made in professional sports. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

The program opened with Jerrilyn Malana, chief deputy for employment and special advisor at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Malana set the stage for the unconscious bias phenomenon with her presentation titled, “Understanding Unconscious Bias and Strategies for Mitigation.” She explains that unconscious bias (also known as “implicit bias”) was brought to the mainstream in 2016 during the presidential election. These biases arise through thought processes you may not realize through ordinary mental functioning and associations we have further lead to biases.

Malana discussed various “schemas” associated with unconscious bias. These schemas are attitudes and stereotypes that are automatic mental shortcuts on how we process, organize and categorize information. Biases are built through our lifetime, however Malana shared that there are strategies to mitigate implicit biases because these types of biases are malleable. These strategies include:

  • Change your mindset and be motivated to change.
  • Diversify your circles and increase the diversity of your groups.
  • Recognize risk factors when making decisions.
  • Slow down your thought processes when making decisions.
  • Reduce distractions when making decisions.
  • Establish concrete standards ahead of time.
  • Routinely check your decision making process.
  • Seek feedback early and monitor your results.

Set up for B-roll of Stath's class G. Joyce Rowland, senior vice president and chief human resources and administrative officer for Sempra Energy, shared her journey in her role at Sempra and how the company has made great strides in the area of unconscious biases and diversity. “To build a truly diverse and inclusive environment, you have to commit to the long game,” says Rowland who prefers to use the term “unintentional bias” versus unconscious or implicit bias. Rowland shared that Sempra’s board of directors is diverse, comprising 38% female, 38% people of color and 31% white male.

Rowland also challenged CEOs and executives of companies to sign the “CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™” pledge which aims to rally the business community to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace by working collectively across organizations and sectors. It outlines a specific set of actions the undersigned companies will take to cultivate a trusting environment where all ideas are welcomed and employees feel comfortable and empowered to discuss diversity and inclusion.

Following the two speakers, a panel including Malana, Rowland, Tim Durie, senior vice president of organizational development for Newland Real Estate Group, and Jennifer Litwak, executive director of Housing on Merit, explored the topic further. Stath Karras, executive director of the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, was the moderator for the panel discussion. The panel addressed topics which were included in CREW’s benchmark studies of 2010 and 2015, and several of its white papers on unconscious bias, including CREW Network’s 2016 “Closing the Gap: Addressing Gender Bias and Other Barriers for Women in Commercial Real Estate.” Litwak mentioned that CREW will be coming out with a new white paper on this topic at the end of October which will address the “Business Case for Diversity,” which compels businesses that these changes have to be initiated from the top.

View photos of the event. https://flic.kr/s/aHsm9bnYUG .

GlobeSt.com 10/13 coverage of the event.
GlobeSt.com 10/16 coverage of the event.
GlobeSt.com 10/17 coverage of the event.

Test your unconscious/implicit biases by taking one of Harvard’s Project Implicit® Association Tests or MTV's Look Different Implicit Association Tests .


Kimberly Malasky
(619) 260-4786