Unconscious Linguistic BiasSM

sounds of leadership
the Sounds of Leadership
the Sounds of Leadership

Increasing Minority Leadership

Shattering Unconscious Linguistic BiasSM is designed to enable executives and decision-makers to uncover their hidden linguistic biases and make more informed decisions about candidates.

We know that there is a dearth of minority executive leaders in healthcare, and that the makeup of hospital boards lacks diversity. We also know that patient health outcomes are improved when the makeup of the leadership team more closely mirrors the patient population. It is imperative that we address this serious issue.

Leadership teams are working hard to increase their diversity, yet progress is slow. Executives and Human Resources departments know that when making promotion or hiring decisions they should not discriminate based on a candidate’s race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, and so on. However, there is a form of bias that we do not look out for and that we are not cautioning against: Linguistc Bias.

Linguistic Bias refers to the fact that we tend to prefer people who sound like ourselves. This takes many forms, including someone’s:

  • Accent – Regional or International
  • Rate of Speech
  • Pause Time
  • Word Choice
  • Backchanneling Cues
  • Intonation

We do not mean to have this bias, or to act upon it, however the research shows that this is the case. It’s not our fault, though. The reason we have it stems from an evolutionary process known as Threat Detection.

Threat Detection refers to our ability to quickly perceive threats against ourselves. Historically, before we could determine whether someone was part of our in-group or out-group based on skin color, it was critical to survival that we notice very subtle cues about the other person.

This included noticing whether someone’s accent or grammar differed in very slight ways from our own.

It was critical to survival that we notice these cues, and we retained this ability over time.

Although these biases are subtle and generally work at a subconscious level, we are able to change them with training. This means that within a matter of months, your executive team and anyone responsible for making promotion, salary, or hiring decisions can learn, at a conscious and subconscious level, to not discriminate against someone due to their subconscious linguistic biases.

Dr. Latterman’s research shows that she has the ability, at statistically significant levels, to measure subconscious beliefs and attitudes towards different varieties of English and to teach participants different ways of thinking about and perceiving these varieties. The results clearly showed that the participants’ linguistic attitudes and beliefs changed in a statistically significant positive direction, measured both quantitatively and qualitatively.

This methodology can be applied within a healthcare setting to effectively drive change from the top down and to increase the representation of minority executives in the highest-level positions.