This is a reflective and intriguing article about a black woman trying to find her fit and fighting against bias at her corporate work place until the day she consciously thinks of parting ways with her employer. If we were to look at the situation objectively, all individuals define themselves to some degree by their relationships. This social identity theory is of the view that people define themselves by the group to which they belong. We are easily identified as members of the reference such as by our gender, age, and ethnicity. We, as human beings, have been exposed to bias all along and this experience is not secluded with certain cultures. In our desire to feel safe we bond together with those whom we see as most like us so that we can protect ourselves from those who might do us harm. We gravitate towards sameness.
Ms. Roderique’s experience at her work place could be defined as problem of unconscious bias. In the referenced article, the protagonist has a view that the unfair corporate world is biased against her, while I think she is unaware of her own biases. Unconscious biases are prejudices we have but are unaware of.
Ms. Roderique is a recipient of the Harry Jerome scholarship but while filling in job application debates about using it. The human behavior is mostly such that when we receive a benefit based on a bias, (in this case a scholarship for black students), we do not usually have an issue, but when we receive the negative effect of a bias in this case being regarded as black because she was a recipient of the scholarship, we protest and question the validity of the bias. Our brains are hardwired to rapidly categorise people instinctively, using our fast brain. We tend to use the most obvious and visible categories to do this: age, body weight, physical attractiveness, skin colour, gender, and disability. But we use many other less visible dimensions such as; accent, social background, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, education, and even job title or organisational department.
These categories automatically assign a whole suite of unconscious characteristics, good and bad, to anyone categorised as being from that group. They are automatic and unconscious biases over which we have little control, and they influence everyone, no matter how unbiased we think we may be. This situation is a grim reminder of unconscious biases that the current crop of human resources professionals is dealing with worldwide. Biased decisions are not made by bad people with inferior attitudes, but rather by well-intentioned people who are unaware of the internal unconscious processes that may be affecting their decision-making every day.
This could stem from their cultural upbringing, values, beliefs, and assumptions that are shaped by an individual’s socio-economic background and different geographical regions. Perceptions are usually formed from very thin slices of information, we are more likely to remember information that is consistent with our own views and selectively screen out communication that is contrary to our beliefs. We as individuals usually try to be a part of a cultural fit typecast to simplify our understanding of the world. These could be personality traits, physical characteristics, expected behaviours.
Biases are “mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes.” (Guynn, 2015). They can be based on skin color, gender, age, height, weight, introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, disability status (for example, the use of a wheelchair or a cane), foreign accents, where someone went to college, and more (Wilkie, 2014).
If you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it. Workplaces around the world give the appearance of being ‘hungry’ for qualified and diverse candidates but their attempts have not been successful because fundamentally it is an inaccurate process. They want to hire people who fit into the organizations as they already exist. The artificial barriers we build to keep the outsiders at a distance are exactly the fences that keep us from opening to other people and undermine our true security.
People want to feel valued and stay where they feel valued. To some extent, the information we receive that shapes our biases are through personal experiences. However most of the time they are provided to us through social media images (Twitter, Facebook, snapchat, Instagram etc.). These are collective beliefs often held across an entire society and sometimes across several cultures rather than beliefs held distinctly by everyone. These are generalizations as it is assumed that everyone in the group has the group’s traits.
According to Ms. Suma Balagopal, ESL teacher in the region of Peel, bias is not a feature that is typical of the Caucasians alone. According to her, the ESL teachers in the Peel region are either predominantly South Asian, or East European. When one looks at the York region, they are largely Italian and so on and so forth.
Going back to the point of bias, one does tend to affiliate with and support others that appear to have similar experiences as our own. This would be more prevalent among the senior management of an organization that is comfortable with the idea of a single culture representation in the higher management. The youth of Canada who are raised here do not feel the differences that the older generation perceives due to the higher intensity of multicultural exposure in their neighbourhoods, schools, and universities..It is true that the worldview of biases is largely against the Caucasian populations as being privileged reference video (https://youtu.be/FBQx8FmOT_0 ). However, one can assume that historically, any group that has held power held the privilege for that period.
Another classical example would be the obsession of Indians with the ‘light skin colour’. Skin lightening products are best sellers in India since lighter skin is considered appealing and desirable as the British who ruled India for over two hundred years administered in the mindset of people that white skin was superior. Rather than point fingers at a group for being either privileged, or biased, it would help to understand that if proper training methods are put in place to recognize their own biases and operate with an understanding of how to minimize it in the workplace, we would be heading to a productive resolution of the situation. Evidently, unconscious bias is a product of the brain’s break neck speed in absorbing, tagging, and sorting information. To slow the brain down personnel and talent management professionals can create structures for activities like decision making, resume screening and interview formats in collaboration with senior management. These structures would allow for more deliberative actions and give peers the opportunity to point out times when unconscious biases may be seeping in. Some organizations have also started to eliminate identifying information from resumes to allow for a more unbiased screening process. Other organizations have started using standardized interview questions to minimize bias and to allow all applicants to be reviewed more fairly.
Strategies to employ to overcome biased decision making: Self awareness is a powerful tool for creating change. Corporate Canada requires more diversity in leadership just so that corporate Canada looks more like the current Canada where conscious endeavors are being created to push and assist minorities to come in the mainstream. Individuals should be hired based on cultural contribution not on ill defined cultural fit.
Interview protocol could get rid of standard questions in the interview and perceivably ask ones that allow for fair comparison. People could be asked about past behaviours.Organizations should support people with cultural differences who bring in different skill set.Diversity of thought- people want to feel valued and they stay where they feel valued.
Working with global mindset-it develops through better knowledge of people and culture. There is no methodical fix to overcome biased decision-making. However, the first step is overcoming the “conscious incompetence” where we realise that our behaviours are influenced by our biases and that there is a different (even better) way to make decisions. 1) Accepting that we all have biases Biases are a very necessary and human condition and have served to keep us alive and help us make sense of the world.
2) Behaving intentionally as if there is no bias. Once one begins to recognize their own bias, they can consciously work to overcome them by choosing to override the displeasing behaviour and be pleasant and forthcoming. For example, on entering a room full of strangers ,the first instinct is to choose to engage with someone whom one would not normally engage with. This way, the opportunity to get to know someone is created and common ground could be identified for further connection. Setting oneself up to learn something surprising from new and purposeful contacts helps to deal with natural bias. 3) Adapting to slow thinkingThinking consciously of not making snap decisions and to give oneself time to gather additional information before making decisions. Usually these decisions are in response to emotive impulses.
By giving oneself time to look for other information could help in a balanced approach. 4) Recognising one’s tendency to fill in the blanks with own assumptions:The brain has a knack to link and uncover arrangements which in turn leads us to assume information that in fact is non-existent and only prevails in our perceptions. We tend to utilize very little information and rarely take the time to think about “what else do we need to consider” in any situation. 5) Skill of conducting interview:Asking the right questions is the most impactful way that one can learn about ourselves and others. Questions need to be open ended and allow us to gather as much information as possible, without making snap judgments. There’s certainly been an “explosion” in the discussion of diversity and the awareness about unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a mental shortcut of sorts, necessary as to how we operate as humans, but one that can also, without intent, interfere with good decision-making and lead to biased outcomes.
Although many decisions we make are objectively informed, through training and reflection, another decision-making process flies under the radar – rapid-fire associations and assumptions, based on our prior experience, that operate outside our conscious awareness.