Winston Salem, NC – The topic of unconscious bias has been a big one this year, thanks in part to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s high profile book and media tour encouraging women to “lean in” at work.

One of her go-to examples is data that shows that success and like-ability are positivity correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Sandberg points to one case created Professor Frank Flynn at Columbia Business School known as The Heidi/Howard Roizen Study.

Flynn had Heidi Roizen, a powerful entreprenuer and venture capitalist, speak to his organizational behavior class each semester. She spoke about networking, her business successes and the challenges of being a woman in Silicon Valley. One semester, he distributed two versions of her bio to the class. Half got Heidi’s real background and half got that same bio with one word changed: Heidi became Howard.

Before the lecture, Flynn had students go online and rate their impressions of “Roizen” on several dimensions. The results showed that students were much harsher on Heidi than on Howard across the board. Although they thought she was just as competent and effective as Howard, they didn’t like her, they wouldn’t hire her, and they wouldn’t want to work with her. They disliked Heidi’s aggressive personality and rewarded Howard’s entrepreneurial one. The more assertive they thought Heidi was, the more harshly they judged her (but the same was not true for those who rated Howard).

The results of that bias echos throughout the world of work. But, it’s another kind of unconscious bais that’s challenging the world of medicine.

In a three-year study with 300 medical students, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that almost 40% of medical students have an unconscious bias against obese people.

The lead author of the study, David Miller, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine, explained that “Bias can affect clinical care and the doctor-patient relationship, and even a patient’s willingness or desire to go see their physician, so it is crucial that we try to deal with any bias during medical school.”

Specifically, doctors don’t trust their overweight patients They believe that heavy people don’t abide by the treatment plans and they are less likely to respect patients who are obese. That creates a huge barrier in effectively treating chronic disease in America. The Wake Forrest team is currently working to update the medical school’s curriculum on obesity to help fight the development of the stigma early in physicians careers.

Dr. Peter Attia talked about his personal unconscious bias – and outright disgust – at TEDMED this year. The full talk isn’t online yet, but even this excerpt will give you chills:

In Attia’s own life, he had a personal experience with weight gain that led him the question everything he thought he knew about the causes of obesity. In Sandberg’s life, she found a path to success that she was able to share with others. What could we learn and share to help people dealing with obesity better navigate a system that’s stacked against them?

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.