Why You Should Care About Unconscious Bias

Nikesh Arora ex-Google exec, now Softbank Internet and Media CEO / vice chairman of the overall company tweeted he is looking for “ivy leaguers with US / Japan experience”. Why did he specify ivy leaguers? Does he realize he is biased?

Or, what about when we see someone in the US, who is using a smartphone other than an iPhone. What are your initial thoughts? It’s okay, be honest. You’re not alone. I’ve heard many girlfriends say things like “I’d never date someone with an Android phone.”

We automatically assume things about people born and raised in certain cities, countries, regions, etc. And judge people by how they look or present themselves to the world. We don’t do it on purpose but we are all guilty of some sort of bias and judgment.

But imagine if you unknowingly carry those thoughts into the workplace. Do you choose to do better work with colleagues you already have an unconscious bias towards? Or what if you are a hiring manager; are you confident your choices aren’t driven by bias?

Ponder that for a second.

I’ve expressed on Twitter how I am thrilled to the toes Megan Smith is America’s new CTO. And it seems most of the tech community is too. General consensus is because she is a female. Or part of the LGBT community. Or both.

I am excited because I have followed her and what she has been doing for Google as an individual (if you’re interested, YouTube her talks from Google I/O or interviews on Google.org and Google [X] to see the many reasons why she is such an excellent leader and technologist — if you love tech from the core like me, it’s really, worth your time.)

One of my favorite clips I’ve seen of her, is about bias — conscious and unconscious bias — which I believe, is important for everyone to be cognizant of. Especially, if you are management level or higher.

This is the video, I’ve been tweeting a lot (with little to zero interest) but now that you’re here, watch:

I wish there were transcripts but some of my favorite soundbites – few are paraphrased:

“You hear venture capitalists talk about pattern matching when they are looking for the next young entrepreneur. But they are also pattern matching for things they have bias in, and not realizing they are doing that. So they might be more likely to fund a White or Asian man vs another (and she gets interrupted).”

“(Unconscious bias) is no one’s fault. It’s not like we are actively doing this. We all have it. It’s inherited. It’s systemic. What we have to do as an industry, is educate ourselves.”

“Diverse teams just make better products. Patents written with men and women on them, for example, are cited more. And the number of times a patent is cited, is a measure to know if a patent is better.”

“If you are applying for a role, a woman would only apply if they have 7 of the 10 characteristics required. Men would apply if they only have 3 of the 10. So as a manager, you just need to be conscious of that, look at all the candidates, and do a little more active work to make sure you’ve got the best pool.”

Google’s Diversity website also has a nice summary of what unconscious bias is:

The science of inclusion

Research shows that when we are more aware of our unconscious bias, we can make more objective decisions. In 2013, more than 20,000 Googlers (nearly half of our Googlers) engaged in workshops that focus on the science of how the brain works. This created a company-wide dialogue around how unconscious bias can affect perceptions of others, interactions with coworkers and clients, and the business overall. We hope our focus on making the unconscious conscious will not only foster a more inclusive workplace, but also make us a better company. Watch this video to find out more.

You can learn more about unconscious bias here, here, or here — or Google yourself.

We can do better. Let us be better.

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Care About Unconscious Bias

  1. Mona

    Great read, and something which I talk about a lot. I try to avoid biases as much as possible, but people also see it in the titles that they have. Customers think differently when they are talking to a project engineer as opposed to a director. There is assumed knowledge in things like this and it is not always appropriate. I am trying to teach my kids to pay attention to this because they are already being taught some implicit biases and the importance of titles. You never know where knowledge or power lies, and it definitely does not correlate with titles.

    1. Rob, goes to show there are many kinds of bias in all shape and forms and it’s great how you are conscious of it. I’m glad someone who has the experience, knowledge, access to knowledge like Megan Smith is so vocal about unconscious or conscious bias. Like she said, it’s inherent, systematic, and the first step to change is understanding and accepting that so we can do better. Be better. Love how you teach your kids – that’s where it all starts.

      By the way, long time! Hope all is well. Thanks for the comment and input.

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