Unconscious Bias

Don’t blink.  Things aren’t always what they seem.

(If you haven't watched Dr. Who yet, checkout Don't Blink)
(If you haven’t watched Dr. Who yet, checkout Don’t Blink)

Unconscious bias is like a mind bug.  Your brain needs to make assumptions to process and interpret the inputs it receives; however, these assumptions and interpretations often can show biases.  There can be a lot of value in listening to your first impression or instinct, as discussed in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  However, we need to be mindful that this first impression can be misguided by our hidden biases as presented by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anothony G. Greenwald in Blind Spot.

…the human body sends 11 million bits per second to the brain for processing, yet the conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second.


That is a lot.  Even if you are hyper-aware your brain still needs to make a lot of assumptions.  In all honesty, my husband and I started wrapping Christmas presents tonight and my unconscious bias, which I always try to be aware of, especially around my kids, showed itself.  Frozen, “girly” wrapping paper for my daughter Ada, Cars “boyish” wrapper paper for my son Myles; at least until my husband pointed it out to me.

I’d like to believe that most people are genuinely trying to be their best selves and are unaware of their biases.  As a woman in tech, I regularly either experience or witness unconscious bias.  Does the female marketing directory always need to be the one taking notes at client meetings?  Is a woman expressing her opinions overly emotional or passionate?  Do you need to explain a concept differently to her than him?  Do you need to automatically assume the bug is in her code instead of his?

Unconscious bias happens to everyone; the key is to be aware of how your interpretations affect your interactions.  As I demonstrated, awareness doesn’t even get your all the way there.  We need to hold each other accountable, as my husband did for me.  We need to accept our biases and accept help recognizing them.

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