INTRODUCTION: Reading the article on “unconscious bias” by Michael A Massetti who is the Vice President, Gartner for General Managers – High-tech, is one of those moments where harsh reality collides with passive illusion. What he has done is remind us that overt or intentional bias is not the biggest challenge in achieving equality. The following are my thoughts on the power of Michael Massetti’s words and why we all need to pay more attention.
There is a saying that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. In the same way, a lack of “conscious” awareness is not an excuse for bias. However, not knowing you are exhibiting bias because of the ingrained views you have ingested over the years through a stereotyping osmosis is a more difficult problem with which to deal.
There is, of course, the obvious visceral reactions that can occur within a blink of an eye. For example, if you take the same route home from work every day, eventually you do not think about the turns you make or the intersections at which you stop for a light. Your mind has gone on autopilot.
The only time you are “awakened” from this convenient and grey matter efficient process is if something unusual happens – such as the car in front of you suddenly cutting you off. At that moment, what is your reaction? It is one of surprise, annoyance, and perhaps even anger.
So, how does this tie into the women are aggressive, and men are assertive misnomer?
For the person speaking up about bias – in this case, the article’s writer, you are the car that is cutting off the driver behind you. It doesn’t matter that you had to swerve in front of them to avoid a pedestrian suddenly stepping out from the curb to avoid hitting them. What does matter is that you awakened them from their autopilot state of mind, and in doing so, you created a level of discomfort.
The same response can and does happen when you cut in front of someone by pointing out their unconscious or unrecognised bias.
For those pointing it out, keep doing so. It may mean that you will encounter a few angry honking of the horns from time-to-time but keep doing it.
But, take heart, because waking someone from their bias slumber will ultimately lead to the changes we need to see.
Now some advice for the people who do not recognise their bias; remember, your bias is not a character flaw, but one of societal conditioning. You may not have been a conscious participant in acquiring your bias, but you can be a conscious participant in its eradication.