I recently spoke at ATLANTEC '16 in Dublin on the issues faced by Women in Technology, the imperatives of dealing with our own bias, and the reasons it is important to address these issues, right now.
I Am Biased
Prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair
The number one problem here is blindness, we are blind to the bias we bring with us in our everyday life. Blind is too strong in many cases, what is evident are a set of beliefs that have become transparent, so that in effect we can not see them and that is what makes us 'blind' to them.
The way we are, our way of being is transparent in many domains, for example, as I list who I am, I actually list my primary bias; I am a white man, 52 years old, married twice, divorced once, agnostic but religious, father of a son and a daughter who has lived in Asia for a decade but was brought up in Northern Europe in traditional protestant nuclear family. (It goes on, but I think you get the point). Each or any of these are a bias in that I see you as different (or the same) as me, at a primary perspective.
These are complicated by a layer we add through time, instinctive prejudice and or preference is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. (Preference is not often mentioned or assumed as part of prejudice which is why I call it out).
These bias' mean that I like or dislike things, this is not a full list and I'm not going to share here which way my preference falls, but try it out for yourself. What list do you create when you think about what you can't bare or are fatally attracted to in others? Gender? Religion? Ethnicity? People who love to touch with no regard for personal 'Onion Rings', Poor hygiene, height and weight, mess? Piercings and tattoos?
The knee-jerk reaction to this problem of blind (or transparent) bias and instinctive preference, is to try to treat everyone the same (Equality). But, I see this a lot, especially in well meaning and earnest early efforts to address or mitigate bias and prejudice.
What happens here is that in order to treat everyone the same, we have to pick a lowest denominator which actually discriminates against excellence and diversity, 'the same' or sameness is the enemy of diversity. It is the polar opposite of what we should be aiming for. There are edge cases where positive discrimination has served it's purpose but it is not a tactic I generally approve of.
I am pro excellence, pro diversity and anti discrimination on any other grounds. What we need is Equity, that there is a route to something, equally for all. Some will get there, some will not, some will be the best, some just average, but the road was available to be travelled by all.
Our bias is accidental more than malicious, but without having a name for them, without having clearly looked and understood each of our perculiar set, we will have a huge problem in giving an equal opportunity to display contribution so that excellence can be clearly seen, exposed and leveraged.
For an example of accidental bias, what have we done to create a working environment that allows all of us to display our best work, or working hours, or asking for qualifications that shed no illumination on real capability?
Is your bias affecting where you think your sources of employees are? For example, most if not all successful entrepreneurs drop out of college and get real world experience – so, can I really expect to hire entrepreneurial thinkers from Post Graduate pools only?
Of all the tactics to solve bias (once you know what they are) I recommend think about platforms – and I mean platforms to have a voice, to be heard from.
One of my mentees tells the story of how in her first week I found a way to get her up on stage at a large company meeting, and into 1:1 with another Vice President – although she had no company experience – I wanted her voice to be heard straight away.
A Ghetto is a poor stage: if you find yourself heading the diversity and inclusion committees something has gone wrong. Look for the technology leadership forums, the places where the business is being bet and get onto those forums. Once there, the task is to be heard, so bring your bias, your prejudice your experience, your excellence – and make them heard.
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