The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

I consider myself a vigilant person, and am known to readers of my articles and listeners of my podcasts as someone who goes to great lengths to discuss issues from multiple angles. Considering not only my own views but those of groups with which I am less familiar—or sometimes disagree—is the foundation of my approach to content creation.

Recent events, however, have reminded me of how even the most well-intentioned among us can make a misstep.

The reaction to the cover of last month’s issue of The ACCJ Journal featured US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 summit, which was hosted by Japan on June 28 and 29.

The text chosen was “Our men in Osaka,” a reference to Our Man in Havana, the famous 1958 political novel by Graham Greene. When it crossed my desk, I took it as a literal depiction of the scene—the leaders of the two countries on which our magazine focuses meeting in Osaka.

After publication, it was pointed out to me that these words could be read by some as being gender biased, suggesting that only men can be leaders. This was most certainly not the intention, but it did make me think about how things are perceived by others.

The concept of unconscious bias—also called implicit bias—is certainly not new to me. I’ve researched the topic many times as part of my work as a writer and editor-in-chief of this publication. The fact that I could still miss what was obvious to others shows the challenge of avoiding it.

I went back to a story I had read in the November 2018 issue of Scientific American, in which three US professors of psychology, physiology, and neuroscience talked about how our brains evolved to notice patterns and to make generalizations. They noted that stereotype-confirming thoughts pass natu­rally through our minds all the time. This is what we call implicit bias. But, as they said, “It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair.”

This sort of communication problem can have serious repercussions on the workplace. As part of diversity and inclusion training, many companies now make use of testing to help their staff identify potential biases they may not be aware they have. Seeing the manifestation of a bias is the first step to avoiding it, and processes must be esta­blished to help minimize the potential impact.

Which brings me back to the cover. How one person approaches a topic can differ greatly from another. Two steps can help you spot implicit bias in your work:

1. Slow down and look at it through the eyes of different people.

2. Get more eyes on it. Ask others not involved in the process for their opinion.

As my experience shows, being aware that unconscious bias exists—and making an effort to avoid it—doesn’t mean that a misstep will never happen. But striving to eliminate it in ourselves, to fully embrace diversity and to be inclusive of all, is vital to success in business and our personal lives. 

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.