Unconscious bias - and what to do about it.

March 28, 2018

How many deeply-rooted biases, stereotypes, stigmas, or judgements live inside of us? How many are we unaware of?

 

For most of us, the answer is many

 

And once we somehow become or make ourselves aware of these preconceived judgements against certain things in our life - what comes next? Is being aware of an unconscious bias enough to help us grow beyond it? 

 

This is a tough one for me to write about because I want to say that I have no biases, I love everyone, I don’t subscribe to stereotypes or stigmas or

spoken chatter that would point my thoughts in one direction or another on a certain topic … but that would be one of the most egotistical things I could possibly say at a time when I'm striving for consistent humility, honesty and growth. 

 

The honest truth is this - most of us walk around swathed in a plethora of unconscious bias every day. 

 

Bias is a natural, often unconscious response to living in a society that normalizes some people and behaviors, while it 'others' anything that's different

 

In a stellar TED talk by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, she drops this truth bomb:

Unconscious bias is not the same as conscious discrimination. I'm not saying that in all of you, there's a secret sexist or racist or ageist lurking within, waiting to get out. That's not what I'm saying. We all have our biases. They're the filters through which we see the world around us. ... Bias can be about race, it can be about gender. It can also be about class, education, disability. The fact is, we all have biases against what's different, what's different to our social norms. — "What does my headscarf mean to you?"

Here ... let me give you an example that my friend shared with me this morning that really hit home.

 

The Boston Symphony conducted a study in 1952 to test the value of blind auditions for recruiting a more gender diverse orchestra. Up until that time all orchestra musicians were male - not most, ALL. So they had the study participants listen to each musician from behind a curtain and then grade each one based purely on talent. Their first round of results were dramatically skewed male. The researchers took a step back, evaluated the study and realized that participants were able to hear the musicians entering the room and the classic female 'heel click' created an immediate judgement prior to the session even beginning. Holy WOW! 

 

So ... they repeated the study with all musicians wearing ‘soft sole’ shoes and voila ... zero gender discrepancy. The second round of results were based purely on the merit of each musician, irregardless of their anatomy. 

 

Fun Facts:

  • In 1970, a US study found that the top five orchestras were composed of fewer than 5% women.

  • By 1980, some of these orchestras were up to 10% women.

  • By 1997, these orchestras were comprised of 25% women.

  • Today most research puts this number just under 50% - PRAISE! 

 

If we want to live in a world where the circumstances of our birth don’t matter - we all need to be a part of the solution.

 

So dig deep friends, recognize these unconscious biases and really work to move through them with compassion. It will be well worth it when we’re living in a world where 'different' is celebrated and ‘normal’ is in a constant state of transformation. For those struggling as one of the 'different' - there can be joy in standing out from the crowd, dancing to the beat of your own drum, or walking a socially divergent path. No matter how we live, for or against the grain, go at it with confidence, humility, and kindness and we will all thrive. 

 

Love + Joy,

 

KJ

 

 

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