I am biased

There, I said it. And you should say it too! For my Head of Diversity and Inclusion role, I have been researching about unconscious bias. It’s been a hot topic in the last 4 years… so what is it all about?

Our brains are wired to help us process information. At any given moment (we’re talking seconds), we are inundated with 11 million bits of information but our brains can only process 40 bits. This means 99.99% of the time, our brains are operating unconsciously. This helps us makes decisions; should I shuffle left or right when a person is walking towards me, do I switch off the light when I leave a room? These examples seem trivial but when it comes to situations of life or death, these shortcuts in helping us make decisions are vital. Imagine you’ve woken up one day and you’ve decided you are not going to let any ‘unconscious bias’ get in your way. You go to the beach, hit the water and surf a couple of waves. While you’re on your board, you see a black dark patch coming your way; there is a dorsal fin sticking out of the water, five to seven gill slits on the sides of its head, sharp teeth so it must be a predator, looks to be in the fish category and you’ve come to the conclusion it’s a shark. Should you continue to analyse whether this shark is a sand tiger shark, nurse shark or a great white? By now, you’ve probably realized you should turn to shore and swim for your life but it’s too late. This is exactly why these shortcuts in decision making; these ‘biases’, are built-in.

But this is not always the case, especially when it comes to decision making for people. Many companies want to make sure they are hiring the right people for the job but how can we ensure we are making the best decision for business without biases getting in the way?

Since July 2016, I have been researching tremendously on Diversity and Inclusion, looking into areas of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, nationality and unconscious bias. There is still so much to learn but the journey so far has been incredible and D&I has become a topic that I am very passionate about. I am a Chinese women in engineering, some say that I add diversity to a team the moment I step into it. That’s true. I am a minority. Women in technology has been a thoroughly discussed topic in the gender diversity space. In June 2016, Davidson Technology’s DiversIT Report revealed only 31% of IT jobs were filled by women, which means men generally outnumber women 2:1 in all states of Australia. And according to Engineers Australia, there is only 13% women engineers. I was appalled when I saw these statistics. I reached out to other women in the industry and wanted to see if there was something we could do to address the pipeline issue. I was very fond of companies such as Code Camp, building up the pipeline for our next generation of coders, developers and engineers. This has become an integral part of the D&I initiatives hipages are working towards. You can read about it in my blog post on Women in Technology. But what fascinates me the most in this Diversity and Inclusion role is how much I have managed to find out about myself through this journey.

Last week, I took the Gender Science Implicit Association test, developed by Harvard on Project Implicit and the results? I am moderately biased against women in science! Yes, I am bias against myself in my own field… how does that work? And if that wasn’t enough, I read a blurb in the start of an article about a fictional situation; a father and son were involved in a car accident in which the father was killed and the son seriously injured. The father was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body taken to the local morgue. The son was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and immediately wheeled into an emergency room. A surgeon was called. Upon arrival, and seeing the patient, the attending surgeon exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s my son!”. So the question was, who was this surgeon? 40% of people usually get this wrong and I was in that 40%! The first imagery I had of the surgeon was a man. This further emphasised my bias towards women. I had to ask myself why I had these biases but more importantly, I have to accept that I have these biases.

Accepting that you are biased is the first step to creating change. I am a true believer of the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, having awareness means it’s in mind. With the increased awareness of what biases I have, I will hold myself accountable when I make decisions or interact with other members in my team.

Google’s re:Work is a good place to start when you want to hold yourself and your organisation accountable for spotting biases. You can also find Managing Unconscious Bias from Facebook online.

My takeaway for everyone who comes across this post is to ask yourself, what biases do you have and what steps will you take to make yourself accountable? Try taking an IAT.

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