A few days ago, I presented a workshop on unconscious bias to the Cortina Community at Creighton University. This group of over 50 college students was very engaging and fun to work with. We discussed the fact that a very small percentage of what we think is conscious. The vast majority of our thoughts, reactions, responses to situations are unconscious and then we try to rationalize these unconscious reactions consciously. I shared funny example of our minds playing tricks on us. To illustrate that we have absorbed stereotypes, one brave young woman volunteered to take the following quiz in front of the group.
She actually did much better than I had, but her results still showed that she had a moderate association of males with science and females with humanities. I had a strong association. So even though consciously, she and I would profess loudly that females can do as well in science as males, subconsciously we have absorbed a different message.
The sad part of the evening was the fact that these young people could all readily come up with examples of unconscious bias that they had witnessed or experienced personally. It starts young. We discussed the concept of covering (see infographic below) where you hide or change certain parts of who you are to fit in. And while we associate that behavior with our teenage years, it is extremely prevalent in the workplace and can be very damaging to an individual’s sense of self. I remember when my oldest daughter was a baby, it was not acceptable to be late to work ESPECIALLY for childcare issues. Yet I realized there were no negative repercussions if you had to drop your car off to be serviced. Having childcare issues was an indication you weren’t serious about your career but car issues was an acceptable fact of life.
One of my favorite quotes is from Joseph Campbell, “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” As individuals we need courage to do this. As organizations, it is our obligation to provide a culture where this is possible. Helping companies do just that is one of the most rewarding aspects of the work I now do . it’s a subject I am always interested in discussing. Feel free to contact me if you think this is an important issue for your company.