#35 The SEEDS model
The SEEDS model of unconscious bias is a tool for understanding and addressing unconscious biases. By recognizing biases and reducing them, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society.
Last newsletter I talked broadly about bias in the people world. This week, I thought I’d dig a big deeper and unpack the SEEDS model. Unconscious bias is a hot topic, and for good reason. It's the elephant in the room that is hard to talk about, but it's time we start having those difficult conversations. As a reminder (in case you weren’t subscribed to, or missed the last email), unconscious bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously influence our understanding, actions, and decisions. It's a form of bias that happens without us even realizing it, and it's something that affects all of us. But, there's good news. We can all work to recognize and reduce our unconscious biases with the help of the SEEDS model.
So, what is the SEEDS model?
The SEEDS model of unconscious bias is a framework for understanding and addressing unconscious bias in the workplace. The acronym SEEDS stands for:
S - Stereotypes: unconscious beliefs and assumptions about certain groups of people.
E - Emotions: unconscious feelings and attitudes that we may have towards certain groups of people.
E - Expectations: unconscious expectations and assumptions about certain groups of people and their abilities.
D - Decisions: unconscious decisions that we make based on our stereotypes, emotions, and expectations.
S - Systems: unconscious biases that are built into organizational systems, processes, and policies.
Great Mike! I know how to spell SEEDS, what do I do with it?
Let's take a closer look at each of these elements of the SEEDS model.
Stereotypes are the unconscious beliefs and assumptions that we have about certain groups of people. We all have stereotypes, and they're not necessarily a bad thing - unconscious pattern matching is how we stop ourselves being eaten by lions and can’t remember whether we drove through a red light or not. But, when we act on stereotypes without questioning them, that's when they become a problem. For example, if you have an unconscious bias that women aren't as good at math as men (a clearly preposterous example), you may be less likely to hire a woman for a math-related position. This is a stereotype that's been proven to be false, yet it still persists in our unconscious biases. This kind of stereotype may be generational - you may pick this up from your parents or older members of your family with more traditional values (or, just folks who are mean).
Emotions are the unconscious feelings and attitudes that we have towards certain groups of people. These emotions can be positive or negative, and they can influence our actions and decisions. As an example, if you have an unconscious bias that people of a certain race are more violent, you may be more likely to feel fear or anxiety around them, even if they haven't done anything to warrant those feelings. (This is what makes you run from crocodiles).
Expectations are the unconscious assumptions we make about certain groups of people and their abilities. These expectations can influence our actions and decisions, just like stereotypes and emotions. For example, if you have an unconscious bias that people with disabilities are less capable than able-bodied people, you may be less likely to give them challenging assignments or opportunities for advancement. You may have an expectation that younger candidates are less experienced or have fewer skills that older ones. This isn’t always the case and so your bias might be negatively affecting your hiring process (look, I literally cannot work out how to change my lock screen photo).
Decisions are the actions we take based on our stereotypes, emotions, and expectations. These decisions can have a significant impact on the lives of the people around us and we may not even be aware of it. All of the above examples will negatively impact someone and likely impact your organisation too.
Systems is the last element of the SEEDS model. These are the unconscious biases that are built into organisational systems, processes, and policies. For example, if a company's promotion process is based on subjective evaluations, it can perpetuate unconscious biases against certain groups of people. These kind of bias are the worse. They’re often harder to spot and even harder to change. They are, however, the most effective way of having the biggest impact on your journey to root out bias and squash it. Developing un-bias systems and processes forces people to examine their bias and stops them from acting upon it unconsciously (that’s not to say you shouldn’t work on the other stuff too!).
So, the SEEDS model is a helpful tool for understanding and addressing unconscious bias in the workplace. By recognizing our own biases, we can make a conscious effort to change our behavior and create a more inclusive environment.
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Oh, great, but what can I do about it?
Here are a few actionable steps we can take to reduce our unconscious biases:
Be aware of your own biases. We all have them, and it's important to recognize and acknowledge them. Spend some time self-reflecting and analysing decisions you make to see if there are any biases hiding in dark corners of your decision making process.
Challenge your assumptions. When we encounter someone who doesn't fit our stereotypes, it's important to question those assumptions and consider other perspectives. Yeah, this is a hard habit to get into, but one that will be profoundly rewarding.
Seek out diverse perspectives. By surrounding ourselves with people who have different backgrounds and experiences, we can broaden our understanding and reduce our biases. Challenge them to call you out with honest conversations and open feedback too. Just be aware you will have a bias and someone will call you out on it.
Create a culture of inclusivity. This means actively working to create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic. This starts and ends with systems.
Remember: reducing our unconscious biases is not a one-time task, it's a ongoing process and will never have an end point, you will never be “finished” and you must always be on your guard. Unconscious bias is something that we all have and it's something that we all need to work on. Self awareness is key here. It's important to keep in mind that reducing our own biases will help create a more inclusive and equitable society for everyone.
So, the SEEDS model of unconscious bias is a useful tool for understanding and addressing the unconscious biases that we all have. By recognizing our own biases and taking steps to reduce them, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for everyone. Don't just sit on the sidelines, let's all work together to make a positive change.
"Unconscious Bias at Work: What It Is and How to Fight It" by Harvard Business Review
"The SEEDS Model of Unconscious Bias" by Diversity Best Practices
"Unconscious Bias: What It Is and How to Overcome It" by Forbes