Unconscious Bias & Micro-inequities – Strategies Using The Know System

Do you want to create the right climate for your employees? Worker satisfaction and operational objectives are influenced by the culture in the workplace. Do you feel your employees are your most important asset? If they feel valued, employees will increase their level of engagement and tap into their discretionary effort to increase productivity. Leaders may have good intentions around workplace climate and culture. However, leadership success may be compromised by factors they may not have considered, such as, unconscious bias and micro-inequities.

Leaders may blunt their effectiveness by shutting out people and creating walls that block the contributions of individuals and groups within their teams. Unconscious bias and micro-inequities may cast a negative cloud over their culture, work environment and work life balance/effectiveness. The Know System™ (TKS™) will help you ask key questions to gather information to solve problems and make decisions. TKS™ is a philosophy to help you develop a strategy to address barriers to success. Leaders, who create a safe environment, are in position to discover and capitalize on the potential in their talent pool.

Unconscious bias

The subconscious mind takes in over 11 million bits of information per second. The conscious mind is only aware of about 40 bits of information per second. Therefore, 99.99% of our thinking is at the subconscious level. The mind uses bias to help us process the sheer volume of information it has to handle. It makes shortcuts to a new in processing the data quickly, but sometimes speed causes it to make mistakes. Additionally, the mind uses past experiences and other bits of information to fill in the gaps where there is missing data. This automatic processing can give rise to misinformation, invalid conclusions and inappropriate decisions.

Tesia T. Marshik, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, in her lecture, Unconscious Bias and the Mind: Challenging the way we think about thinking1 (available on YouTube), mentions four distinct attributes related to our biases.

  1. We don’t always see the world as it actually is
  2. We often see the world differently from other people
  3. When told there is a another perspective, it affects our opinion
  4. How we expect the world to be, changes how we see it

We know that biases are thoughts, ideas or beliefs that cause us to prejudge an individual or group. Sondra Thiederman, PhD, in her book 7 steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace2, defines bias as an inflexible belief about a particular kinship group. She also says that biases are attitudes not behaviors. When biases are negative, they can cause us to unfairly interact with the target of our bias.

Unconscious bias by definition is bias that is outside of a leader’s awareness. It can undermine the corporate culture and create tension that works against goals and objectives. Therefore, a strategy must be instituted. It must contain a system that minimizes harmful effects on the current culture. This strategy should address unconscious bias and micro-inequities.

Joseph Greeny, et al, in the book Crucial Conversations3 describes the relationship between our thoughts and actions. Initially, we see, hear or experience something which causes us to create a story around it. This story creates feelings that in turn are converted into actions. Unconscious bias affects the stories that we tell ourselves, which ultimately affect our behavior.

There is a large body of evidence to validate the existence, prevalence and effects of unconscious bias. Individuals involved in the studies would have categorically denied that they were biased, yet data conflicts with their impressions. These results may explain why women, people of color, those with age differences and disabilities may be at a disadvantage in some companies.

  • US orchestras – 50% more women selected in first round with the implementation of blind auditions4
  • Resumes with white sounding names received more call backs than ethnic sounding names for interviews5
  • 58% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are six feet or taller compared to 14.5% in the US population6

The Implicit Associate Test, IAT, developed by Professors Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greewald has compiled data on millions of people. The results validate that we are a product of our experiences, conditioning, cultural and societal messaging. Additionally, we have a subconscious tendency to display preference toward or against individuals or groups. The summaries of their research are presented in their book, Blind spot7. You may take the test at Implicit.harvard.edu. Some of the findings are;

  • 76% of us associate male with career and female with family
  • 70% associate male with science and female with arts
  • 75% have an implicit preference for white people over black people
  • 76% have an implicit preference for able bodied people

Micro – inequities

Micro-inequities are the negative micro messages that we communicate to others. They represent the manifestation of unconscious bias. Our conditioning, experiences and advertisements are embedded in our subconscious mind. Our actions are the fruit of our innermost thoughts and feelings.

Micro-inequities was coined by Dr. Mary Rowe8 in the 1970’s to explain behaviors identified while working with female and minority students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Rowe was an ombudsman who noticed many complaints from students that did not fall under the classic definition of discrimination.  She discovered a pattern of behavior of subtle slights which could be verbal or non verbal. The cumulative effect of these devaluing messages affected the student’s self esteem and self confidence. The actions of others made them feel unimportant, devalued and irrelevant.  Micro-inequities is an apt description of their encounters.

Micro-will inequities are the subtle, persistent slights that may be unconscious or conscious9. They make the recipient feel insignificant, not important, not valued the, invisible and inconsequential. Individuals, who experience micro-inequities, may become frustrated, isolated and retaliate by reducing their level of engagement and withholding vital information which, could be necessary for the success of the enterprise. They may feel invisible, like an outsider, unwanted, as if they don’t belong. These individuals do not feel included and may withhold vital information or adopt, what I like to call, an OMDB (Over My Dead Body) mentality about sharing their ideas. A few examples of micro-inequities10,11,12 are listed below;

  • Stealing ideas or not giving credit to the originator
  • Multi-tasking when talking to some individuals
  • Leaving people names off of memos
  • Some are not invited to the meeting before the meeting or the one after
  • Introductions by name only, while others get name / title and a story
  • Constantly checking their watch
  • Avoiding eye contact or rolling their eyes
  • Constantly interrupting in mid sentence
  • Forgetting a person’s name or using the wrong name
  • Don’t listen when some individuals speak
  • Closed to some suggestions but open to others
  • Comments ignored unless voiced by others
  • Selectively withholding praise
  • No small talk – selectively given
  • No time or very little time
  • Look for ways ideas won’t work, while others receive why their ideas may work
  • Communicate low expectations
  • Impatience in interactions
  • Always rushing when certain people want to speak to themUnconscious bias and micro-inequities must be identified and minimized. Systems must be put in place and a language instituted to build commitment and accountability. Unconscious bias and micro-inequities may be addressed using The Know System™.

The Know System™

The Know System™13 is a technique to assist in developing a customized or standard standards method of addressing these issues. Organizations are implementing programs to address unconscious bias and micro-inequities. The Know System™ is a decision-making, problem solving model that can assist individuals and institutions in addressing unconscious bias and micro – inequities. The model can contribute to individual, team and organizational strategies to improve culture. It will allow them to use their creativity to tailor a training program that fits their needs.

The Know System™ can be used to: 

  1. Define evidence of unconscious bias and micro-inequities
  2. Develop strategy and tactics to address them
  3. Set up programs, procedures or structure to minimize
    1. Performance management implications
    2. Interviews for hire or promotion
    3. Customer service
    4. Client and consultant selections
    5. Embed into corporate culture through standalone training programs
    6. Embed into corporate culture by inclusion in all training programs
  4. Establish accountability measures

The Know System™ is an intuitive methodology for gathering crucial information. It can help you create a mind map for data collection for analysis and implementation. Companies can use the creativity of their leaders and other employees to customize programs to address these issues at a local or national level. An opening exercise will familiarize everyone with the decision-making platform.

Opening Exercise

The following is a simple means to become comfortable with the Know System™  

  1. Write the word Know on the top of a sheet of paper or on your tablet or computer screen
  2. Write down words you can pull from the word Know
  3. Use your imagination and include 4, 3 and 2 letter words, which may include a few colloquialismsThe words identified may include the following: Won, Know, Now, No, On, Own, Ow (pain), Wok, Ok, Wonk, KO (Knock Out), Wo (slow down). It is not necessary to use all of the words, but only those pertinent to your situation. Only use the words you feel are related to address the unconscious bias and micro-inequities in your culture.

Write each word at the top of its own page or column and answer the relevant questions. You may review The Know System™ diagram for assistance.


The Know System™ will have a positive influence on individual reflections and group conversations and discussions. Once you have selected the words, start thinking of how they apply to your situations. I will give you a few examples to get you started.


The first thing you may want to do is to select the word Won. This represents your vision, goal or objective. You want to determine what success or excellence looks like to you? Write this down to guide your thinking.


What do you know and what do you need to know about your organization and employees? What you need to know may be in areas crucial to maximizing our relationship with our employees. The next step is to apply Who, What, Where, When and Why.


What is the current state of the organization? Describe the climate as seen through the eyes of your employees. How is the client?


It is critical to establish priorities and to maintain focus by removing or deflecting assignments that detract from your objective. Employees need to know what is important, so that they can maintain their vigilance on the matters that are truly necessary to achieve your vision and your goals.


Sometimes you have to stir things up a bit. Just because something is always been that way, does not mean that it always has to be done that way. There are instances when the status quo must be revised. There may be a need to disrupt the traditional way of doing things in favor of something better.

The Know System™ can be applied to strategy development, problem solving and decision-making. This also pertains to unconscious bias and micro-inequities. Additional information can be found in my books The Isle of Knowledge14 and Unlock Your Leadership Greatness15.

Copyright © 2017 Orlando Ceaser


Bibliography &  References

  1. Tesia T. Marshik, Unconscious Bias and the Mind: Challenging the way we think about thinking lecture at Learning Technologies Conference, 2016 (available on YouTube).
  2. Sondra Thiederman, PhD, 7 Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace (Chicago, IL: Dearborn Trade Publishing, A Kaplan Professional Company, 2003).
  3. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Crucial Conversation (New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
  4. Cecilia Rouse & Claudia Goldin, Blind Auditions Key to Hiring Musicians, American Economic Review, September – November, 2000.
  5. Marianne Bertran & Sendhil Mullainathan, Employers’ Replies to Racial Names, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2004.
  6. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink, (New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005).
  7. Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald, Blind Spot (New York, New York: Delacorte Press, 2013).
  8. Mary Rowe, “Barriers to Equality, the Power of Subtle Discrimination to Maintain Unequal Opportunity,” 1990.
  9. Brigid Moynahan, Go Ahead: Sweat the Small Stuff, The Conference Board, 2005.
  10. Brigid Moynahan, Go Ahead: Sweat the Small Stuff, The Conference Board, 2005.
  11. Stephen Young, Micro Messaging (New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007).
  12. Janet Crenshaw Smith, 58 little things that have a Big impact – What’s Your MicroTrigger™? (Rockville, Md: Ivy Planning Group, LLC, 2006).
  13. Orlando Ceaser, The Isle of Knowledge (Belleville, Ontario, Canada: Guardian Books, 2009).
  14. Orlando Ceaser, The Isle of Knowledge (Belleville, Ontario, Canada: Guardian Books, 2009).
  15. Orlando Ceaser, Unlock Your Leadership Greatness (Chicago, IL: Watchwell Communications, Inc., 2014).