You are biased. (And so am I).

You are biased. It affects your judgements, your decisions and how you feel about the things that happen to you and the people you meet.

How have those two sentences made you feel? Reflective? Angry? Offended? 

That’s normal too, but our propensity to shut down when someone points out our inherent human glitch of bias doesn’t stop it being true, and it locks down our bias even more.

You are biased, and so am I.  

Our brains are built for bias – it keeps us alive. In order to process millions of pieces of information per second we need filters. Those filters are built from the beliefs, values and previous experiences we accumulate since birth. If we didn’t do that, we’d be unable to make decisions, pursue goals or interact with others.

But those belief filters come from somewhere… if we mainly see men doing DIY or manual work, we might think of a manual worker as a man. If we celebrated birthdays for girls with pink cake and sparkles, we might start to associate those things with being a girl. If, as we learn about space exploration, we see pictures of white, male astronauts, our brain creates an efficiency filter that equates those things and we will use  them (maybe consciously, but more likely subconsciously) to make judgements, decisions and guide our behaviour throughout our life.

“That’s not me!” I hear you say. “I don’t discriminate. I would hire a female manual worker and I want more women in STEM. It’s the right thing to do. I have daughters and I want them to be whatever they want.”

Logically, you absolutely do. This is another human brain glitch. Think of it like a business: you have a Marketing team who are analysing, reflecting and strategizing. They’re super-smart. You also have an Operations teams who are doing whatever it takes to get stuff done that day. They’ve developed efficiencies that work day-to-day and they’ve done most of them before Marketing have had their first cup of coffee. Your rational, logical, analytical neo-cortex is the Marketing department. Operations? That’s your brain stem, your habitual patterns, your well-used neural pathways. Operations were there first, they’re the lifeblood of the business. They keep the lights on.  But they don’t always do what Marketing are saying the business is about. Sound familiar?

To witness this Marketing vs Operations struggle in your own thinking processes, there is a bias game that Harvard University have developed to further research in this area. If you visit https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html (you’ll need to register first as you are contributing to valuable research) you can experience a number of these across Age, Gender, Disability, Race, Weight. Why not pick one (as it’s International Women’s Day this week maybe choose gender) and experience this for yourself?

I took the gender test and I have a slight bias towards thinking of females in relation to family and males in relation to career. I was born in the late ‘70’s and my dad stayed at home with me until I was 4 while my mum worked – a radical act at that time. I’ve done some big jobs, I don’t have children. I’ve made quite a few men quite angry with my strident feminist take on things. And my Operations department still sort women into the ‘home’ category more often than the ‘career’ category. 

Am I misogynist? Sexist? Should I be pilloried? I’d like to think not. But I have bias. And I need to understand what my Operations team are actually doing on the ground if my Marketing department is really going to help build a better, more equal world where every human can achieve their potential,

What could be possible if we all understood this about ourselves more? Less heat, more light? More rounded conversations about equality in the workplace and in life? Less defensiveness? More impactful solutions? Greater collaboration?

Better results?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.