The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias, Pamela Fuller, Mark Murphy w/ Anne Chow, 2020

@bentzen borrowed this book from the local library as part of ongoing Fission research to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company. Link to our talk page about DEI..

Here’s a summary (including some exercises for both employees and leaders):

The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias

by Pamela Fuller
& Mark Murphy with Anne Chow

Bias exists in everyone We can actively think about how bias is at play in the choices we make. When we cultivate meaningful connections, we can see past bias and value people around me. When we effectively confront bias, we create space where all are valued and able to contribute our best.

We’re able to manage and process all of the information we receive in a day because of bias. But we can also be aware of bias and actively work to avoid it.

As it relates to Fission: this is all long-game stuff. We can’t expect to change everything immediately and suddenly be a more diverse company but we can work toward it while working on ourselves as individuals.

Chapter 1: Explore Identity

Our identity is like an iceberg. The 10% above the water is what people see (age, skin colour, gender, culture) while the rest is underwater (education, religion, personality, skills, experience, family, wealth, etc).


  1. Write 10 “I am” statements that represent both the “above the water” and “below the water” identifiers.
  2. Mark X on identifiers that may fuel a bias (conscious or unconscious) toward others.
  3. Mark O next to identifiers that could have made others bias towards you (some might be marked for both X and O).
  4. Consider the correlation between your identity and potential or uncovered biases. Do they limit possibilities or expand them? Are they serving you well, or getting in the way of what you’re trying to achieve? Do they influence you to put off decisions, or lure you to rush into actions you often regret?
  5. Analyze how your “I am” statements connect to what you value and how they ultimately make you feel (vulnerable, proud, indifferent, etc.).
  6. Pick an “I am” statement with an X and list where it may have come from (media, parents, peers, society, education, context, culture, innate trait, etc.).
  7. Identify any facets of your identity (personality, experiences, etc.) that may have reinforced your uncovered or potential bias.

Exercise for leaders:

Our biases impact how we as individuals relate and engage with other peopl and circumstances, how we make decisions and ascribe value. When we serv in a leadership role, the immediate recipients of our biases are our teams.

  1. Choose the origin story you wrote on the previous pages and overlay it on your team. Perhaps it’s an origin story about priorities, integrity, ambition, work ethic, the role of family in our lives, or something else.
  2. Write the names of your direct reports below. (If you don’t have any, consider your team of peers instead.)
  3. For each name above, consider how your origin story impacts how you see this person, what kind of relationship you have with them, and how you make decisions with or regarding them. If it produces a negative outcome, how does recognizing your bias allow you to change your thinking and behavior? (Write your answers below.)
  4. To make the most of this process, repeat this exercise with custom-ers, stakeholders, and colleagues.

Chapter 2: Understand the Neuroscience

Our primitive brain is our “fight, flight, or freeze” instincts and it’s categorizing things all the time. Our gut feeling is that primitive brain.

Our emotional brain is our learned experience, our programming. It helps us have empathy and feel connected but can also be reactive and irrational.

Our thinking brain is our higher level processing, our problem solving and creativity.

All 3 interact in any given situation.


  1. Recall a time when you had a conversation or an interaction tha you believed was pragmatic and logical, but the person you wer speaking with was becoming emotional. Describe what vou observe about the other person- tone of voice, facial expressions, boc movements, posture, language used. How did the conversation end?
  2. Now think about a conversation where you felt strongly about something and the person you were speaking with seemed calculating or cold, unable to understand why this was so important to you. Describe what you observed about the other person tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements, posture, and language used. How did the conversation end?

Exercise for leaders:

Building psychological safety is about balancing the scales of power in human interaction. While leaders and managers do have authority in the workplace, utilizing that power to dominate conversations can be dam-aging.

  1. Consider these different components of power and the tips provided for each component before engaging in an important conversation:

  • Acknowledge your formal authority
  • Consider the environment and its impact on the conversation
  • Send info to the person so they can prepare (no surprises)
  • Integrity; don’t interrupt, listen
  • Check your emotions (and perhaps continue the conversation another time)
  • Conclude by assessing the results of the conversation and decide if you should talk about it again later
  1. Identify two or three important conversations you intend to have in the upcoming days or weeks. Think about how the conversations will affect the other person(s). Are they likely to go into the primitive, emotional, or thinking brain? Take time to plan the conversations beforehand, then rehearse them with a trusted colleague or friend. What can you say or do to create psychological safety?

Chapter 3: Recognize the Bias Traps

Information Overload Facts Over Feelings Need for Speed
Confirmation bias – only see info that supports our belief In-group bias – favouring people ilke us Attribution bias – giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt but not others
Anchoring bias – relying based on first piece of info received Negativity bias – more affected by negative experience than positive Sunk-cost bias – resisting need to change course because you’ve already invested so much


  1. Select a trap you might be prone to and increase self-awareness by listing how, where, when, and what triggers the bias trap for you
  2. How can you create space to avoid this? (eg, take a break from social media)
  3. Consider ways to stop, modify, or do more of to avoid these traps

Exercise for Leaders:

Pause when making decisions to consider if it impacts someone’s opportunity or growth or for the company, the financial repercussions, and how critical it is. If it does, get some perspective from someone you trust, list pros and cons, or just sleep on it.

Chapter 4: Embrace Mindfulness

  • Start a mindfulness practice; perhaps start meditating
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and reflect on when you’re experiencing bias
  • Reflect daily on what you did that day and decisions you made and what influenced those decisions
  • Think about how you think
  • Consider training staff on mindfulness
  • When announcing projects, give people time to process before moving forward

Chapter 5: Focus on Belonging

  • Cultivating meaningful connections with people can help reduce biases
  • Important for leaders: no matter how busy or how many priorities you have, make sure people feel like they belong
  • Employees should feel safe enough to express their authentic selves. They shouldn’t have to minimize an aspect of themselves to better “fit” with the company, the company should embrace the differences
  • What language do we use in policies and procedures that encourage belonging and representation?
  • Do you feel comfortable expressing your authentic self? Telling coworkers what you did on the weekend? Sharing your opinion? Following coworkers on social media?
  • We should be respectful of how people want to be addressed and discuss things like pronouns and other identifiers

Chapter 6: Deploy Curiosity and Empathy

  • “Fit” is often about likability rather than competence
  • Affinity bias leads to choosing candidates that are like us rather than the most qualified
  • Empathy: put yourself in other people’s shoes
  • Curiosity: ask insightful questions and really listen to the responses, building conversation from there
  • Find a balance between empathy and curiosity
  • connect with people; learn people’s stories

Chapter 7: Tap Into the Power of Networks

  • coaching (coaches talk to you), mentoring (mentors talk with you), sponsorship (sponsors talk about you), confidants
  • broaden your networks to avoid biases (including the media you consume)

Exercise for leaders:

  1. List ten people from your professional network you interact with: people above you, below you, across, at the same level, at client sites, or from other divisions. Challenge yourself — this is not an exercise in "Well, I work with this one Black person …” This is who you go to when you have a problem or a big challenge to solve. Who comes to you when they have a dilemma or when they need coaching or mentorship? Who are the go-to people in your network, and for whom are you the go-to person?
  2. Count the people who are the same as or different from you in various categories. What do you notice about who you choose to connect with or who chooses to connect with you? How does who you connect with impact or affect your influence?

Chapter 8: Navigate Difficult Conversations

  • When you think there might be bias, ask questions.
  • You could tell stories about your personal experience with bias
  • Find ways to “tear down the wall” between you and someone else
  • Bring in a mediator
  • Prepare for difficult conversations (and allow others to prepare for those difficult conversations by providing info before starting them)

For leaders:

  • be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk but actually listen. Empathic listening.
  • allow people to feel their emotions
  • beware of gaslighting
  • if necessary, take a beat
  • be proactive in addressing biases by asking your team how bias might be affecting them
  • rebalance power by asking employees what’s working and what isn’t
  • be clear and transparent about what you can and can’t do to help
  • seek feedback

Chapter 9: What is Courage?

Courage to identify: notice bias is happening, pause and question, check assumptions, and learn.

Courage to cope: deal with bias, prioritize self-care, write about your experience, build community, counterbalance the negative, align your strategy

Courage to be an ally: help others with bias. be proactive, extend an invitation, team up with others, offer support, be a coach, mentor, and sponsor

Courage to be an advocate: proactively address bias, share your story, speak up, dissent, organize/network

Can be bold courage (immediate, action oriented) or more careful, considered, purposeful courage (or anywhere in between)

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. what type of courage are you most comfortable with?
  2. what courage have you seen at work?

For leaders:

  1. how does your bold or careful courage change team dynamics and decision making, or affect your leadership style?
  2. do you recognize or reward careful or bold courage?
  3. do you make it safe to display courage?

Chapter 10: Courage to Identify

We like to believe we make decisions on facts and logic but EVERYONE is biased in some way (it’s human nature). Identifying that we need to improve, slow down, and question our decision making is an act of courage.

Pause and question your decisions to check for bias. Are you making any assumptions? Challenge faulty assumptions. And continue to learn more about bias so you can address it in the future.

Chapter 11: Courage to Cope

  • If you’re experiencing bias, don’t try to “tough it out” — your first priority is you. Prioritize self-care (whatever that means for you — eg, leave the situation, talk with a friend, meditate, journal, exercise, etc.
  • Potentially offer employees access to apps like Headspace (for meditation); we offer counselling as part of our heath coverage
  • Other ways to cope: write about your experience (to get it out of your head). You could make your writing public to help others cope (see they’re not alone).
  • Build community — helps to see you’re not alone by sharing your experience with others like you
  • Counterbalance the negative force with a confidant, coach, mentor, sponsor, friend… someone in your network you can talk to
  • Find your strategy for dealing with bias in the moment. That might mean pausing a conversation and asking to revisit the discussion after you’ve had a chance to think about it a bit.
  • If the company you work for continues to be problematic and you can’t deal with it any more, find another job. It’s not worth it. Remember to prioritize self-care.

Chapter 12: Courage to be an Ally

  • You can use your privilege to lift someone else up by supporting them, influencing others to address bias, coaching, mentoring, sponsoring, etc. As an ally, you should de-centre yourself and ensure the focus is on the people or person you’re allied with.
  • Be proactive not passive. Extend an invitation to more people with diverse perspectives. Team up with others to be an ally. You can also offer support as a way to be an ally. Be a coach, mentor, or sponsor.

Chapter 13: Courage to be an Advocate

  • As an advocate, you’re the “squeaky wheel” that will help drive institutional and societal change.
  • Sharing your story is one way to be an advocate. Other people will hear they’re not alone!
  • Speaking up when you find bias can also drive change.
  • Formalize dissent: someone could have a role as “devil’s advocate” to find holes in a plan, use empathy to consider fresh perspectives, and push back on assumptions. Just make sure this role isn’t argument for argument sake.
  • Organize networks: when you are experiencing bias, it helps to join a network of like-minded people for support. If you’re an advocate, you could start that network.

Chapter 14: Getting Hired

  • look for opportunities for partnership for recruitment (ie, you can’t hire a specific type of person but you can partner with a related organization for recruitment)
  • use a hiring panel to help mitigate bias (instead of 1-on-1)
  • watch language used in ads avoid bias (we do this already by running ads through a website to check for gendered language)
  • use data rather than instincts for hiring criteria
  • employee benefits: audit for inclusion, pay (while also allowing for negotiation and flexibility)

Chapter 15: Contributing and Engaging

Someone asked, “What’s wrong with a focus on fit? Isn’t it important that our employees fit with the organization’s values?” A very good question We’re often more receptive to ideas we’ve come to on our own instead of having been told what the right answer is. “Fit” is a word with a lot of emotional weight for some people, who feel strongly that their gut instinct on fit is how you make a good decision. An interesting conversation ensued. This is where we ultimately landed.
When “fit” means the person’s values and beliefs are in line with the organization’s culture, core values, and mission, there is a greater chance of success. But there are potential red flags if “fit” is being used to describe how characteristics lend themselves to in-group bias or if “fit” is ensuring someone won’t make waves or be disruptive the word we settled on was “agreeable.” Cultural fit is important; agreeability less so. The best employees can be those who share the same fundamental beliefs and values yet approach issues in unique ways and provide different and fresh perspectives.”


  • have a formal process.
  • provide a tour guide for onboarding (someone else in the company that can help new hires through the process)
  • Non-formal processes are where bias can creep in.

Ongoing support:

  • employee development, engagement, and retention is not one size fits all
  • check the pulse of employees with “pulse” surveys
  • Leaders tend to under communicate their vision so be expressive
  • communicate wins (most people feel inspired by hearing about wins)

Chapter 16: Moving Up

  • Don’t forget to continue to address bias in advancement of people’s careers. If you want to retain employees, you need to support them.
  • And as you continue to work on yourself and your organization to address bias, celebrate even small wins as a way to motivate yourself to keep going!