There’s been much in the news this week about Unconscious Bias – you probably saw the headline KPMG UK boss quits after telling staff unconscious bias is ‘complete crap’, so this prompted us to look up the definition, share with you what we heard from the Wonder Women in Marketing we interviewed, and Katy’s little hacks for addressing it.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.
Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. For example, biases may be more prevalent when multi-tasking or working under time pressure.
What I find fascinating about unconscious bias is that simply creating AWARENESS of it helps you change your and others’ thinking, language and actions. So much is engrained in our subconscious through our up-bringing, social constructs, and culture that it’s difficult to break your bad habits even when they are not your beliefs. I believe whole-heartedly in equal opportunity, recognition and rewards, but I confess that I slip up from time to time in what I say (and sometimes do).
Our Wonder Women talked about it when we asked them about the challenges they faced as women in marketing:
There have been a million small things – a million small gestures that I can’t even remember. That’s what makes it difficult to fight against – Kara McCartney
It’s much harder to quantify the stuff that’s going on below the surface – Kate Thornton
Interestingly, these small things are likely to be the most dangerous – how do we push back against them?
There were some other revealing examples of bias in our Wonder Women’s experiences, which I’m sure many of you will relate to (both women and men):
I’ve experienced the assumption that as a woman I’m the more junior, even though I’m a Partner. A new client, who is male, unconsciously addressed the more junior guy first, assuming he was the partner. When you bring it to their attention, they’re embarrassed, of course, but it’s still happening. – Rebecca Lury
Women have brilliant ideas, but how many times have we been in meetings and said something that was ignored, then a man says the same thing. Everyone says, “Well done, Geoff, that was very clever.” – Kate Thornton
There was an occasion when I was working in a small agency. One evening, all the secretaries had gone home at 6pm and suddenly a call came in and we had to rush something out. The MD asked me if I could type the response. He just expected me to be able to type because that’s what all women were taught, weren’t they! Well, I had deliberately not learned to type for precisely that reason and anyway they did not offer that course at Oxford when reading natural sciences. – Henrietta Jowitt
I have lost count of the times I was asked, during pregnancy and after the birth of my daughter, if I was planning to go back to work. My husband wasn’t asked that once! – Jossie Morrison
What has helped me address my unconscious bias is my own self-awareness together with others around me helping me to identify my faux-pas. Within my family and amongst trusted colleagues and friends, we light-heartedly pick each other up on unconscious bias, then through awareness we can correct. So, don’t ignore the million small things that crop up every day – help yourself address your unconscious bias and help others around you do the same thing.
Giles also found a few examples of the most frequent unconscious biases directed at women we should all be aware of:
- Women are very emotional
- Women aren’t good at being assertive
- Women are more caring
- All serial killers are men
- Men make better leaders
- Women are not good drivers
- Women will do the (majority of) parenting and stay at home
- Women will do the housework
The good news is that many enlightened organisations are working hard to address unconscious bias, and some great advertising campaigns such as #likeagirl and Always are leading the way.