The curse of unconscious bias: When to own it and when to call it out

work-meeting

It’s been a bit of a while since you’ve heard from me, but… I’m baaaaack.

Recap! My last blog was on how external influences can cause us to underestimate ourselves. This mainly touched on an unconscious bias that may cause certain behaviours and attitudes towards women – for example, that we are fragile little flowers who have no business in the technology world nor gaming world. I also touched on prevailing ideas about what is a “woman’s job” and what is a “man’s job.”

Those prevailing ideas have been on my mind recently as I look back on my recent position with DXC’s iAction team, having recently left that position for a role in Workforce Integration, a branch of HR.

I first moved to the iAction team as part of my graduate rotation, assuming I was going to be a second-line engineer, as most iAction team members are. Instead, though, I was responsible for quality assurance. It was fun and fulfilling work, but [stereotype alert] I considered it a more womanly role in some ways. Consider, for instance, that it required attention to detail, dealing with people, being the middle (wo)man, conflict resolution, and training.

This got me thinking that unconscious bias works both ways. I could have inadvertently sabotaged myself had I let my own unconscious bias affect my work.

That’s because I think I fit well into my new role in workforce integration. I also believe (but don’t know) that I’ve picked this role up much quicker than I could have picked up a technical one in iAction. My strengths are communication, people skills and active listening. The point is this: It’s OKAY to fit a perceived stereotype. If it works for you, own it.

But what about the times when others project their unconscious biases upon you? How do we spot unconscious bias and prevent it?

Call it out.

Our unconscious biases are based on something called an availability heuristic, which is a sort of brain shortcut. Unpicking these availability heuristics are the basis of cognitive behavioural therapy. In other words, you can train the brain to think differently, but it takes both time and effort.

I doubt most people consciously believe notions like because she’s a woman she’s weaker or less capable anymore. So, we have to help people identify when they’re being unconsciously biased before we can begin to correct it. Here’s an example: Why is sending a woman on business trips and taking mum away worse than sending a man on business trips and taking dad away – even if the child is older?

Sometimes, we can’t help it. Imagine if you didn’t have these brain shortcuts at all — decisions would be VERY hard and you wouldn’t be able to stick to a decision, as your mind would be changing all the time.

What about as a corporation – how can we fizzle out bias? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Blind Resumes/CVs – cover the name of applicants so you can’t see what gender is applying. You’ll have to shortlist based purely on an applicant’s experience and achievements – if you’re a hiring manager or know one, maybe suggest it?
  • Training – the magic ‘T’ word. Teach people this happens. Train them to spot it. Then take action on it. (TTT … I thought of that myself *takes a bow*).
  • Stop conforming to our own unconscious bias of what a woman should or should not be.
  • Think about leveling maternity and paternity leave – The fear that women will disappear from the company for an extended amount of time due to maternity leave should not be a deciding factor in hiring to begin with, but the concern ceases to even exist if men will be doing the same. This is to say nothing of the benefits of young babies bonding with their dads (and vice versa) but that’s another blog.

This is a pretty hefty blog now, but I’m back…  I hope you enjoyed it!

Trackbacks

  1. […] senior Digital Transformation Consultant in our Sydney office. Similar to an earlier blog of mine (The curse of unconscious bias: When to own it and when to call it out), Cindy has put pen to paper (so to speak) to share some of her thoughts and views of being a woman […]

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