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Am I biased?

I seem to remember it as if it was yesterday. Walking down the streets of the little town where I grew up, before I knew it, I found myself lying face down on the pavement, pushed by a bunch of young boys who liked to threaten & torment me. Most mornings, I would arrive at school with dirt all over myself and mud on my hands. 

The teacher would send me to wash but never asked any questions. 

After all, I was a child of color. 

Like most of us, my friend Sophie had chores to execute at home, the only difference was that her brothers were getting paid for theirs, whilst she was not.

After all she was a girl.

I guess that, back in the 80s, things were different from today, right? 

But are they really? 

Recently, I was at the airport, sitting in the lounge waiting to board my flight. I could not help but overheard a conversation between an agent and a gentleman queuing to check his luggage in “Excuse me, but this line is for first-class passengers only.” “Yes, I know. I’m in the correct line,” responded the

man. The agent broke into a wide grin and said, “Oh! Are you really? You’re flying first-class? How lucky for you!” The agent turned, walked silently past the passengers and went back to the ticket desk.  

– After all the gentleman was in his mid-twenties. 

What is unconscious bias? outside the diversity and inclusion community many people are still unfamiliar with the term. A widely accepted definition is “learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal, and able to influence behavior.” (Mike Noon, Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of London). When thinking of unconscious bias, I am often reminded of a quote from Thais Compoint, author of Succeed as An Inclusive Leader.

“Unconscious bias is like jealousy: nobody likes to admit it, and often we’re unaware of it.”

Does it make it right though?

Researches have shown that simply learning about unconscious bias is not enough to make meaningful changes.

According to an article recently published in the Harvard Business Review, “Unconscious bias training can be a useful component of diversity and inclusion efforts, but only if it’s thoughtfully designed with research in mind.”

Cult intel is a form of phenomena Daniel Kahneman calls System 2 thinking—a slower, more deliberate response rather than the impulsive default of System 1 thinking” With System 1 thinking, we rely on our most intuitive, unconscious and automatic ways of digesting and responding to stimuli. However, with System 2 thinking, we actively become more conscious and deliberate in how we react to stimuli. 

Unconscious bias needs to be addressed and managed effectively. 

Back in April 2015, with a team of 11 other women I was selected to take part in an expedition to the Arctic Circle. The idea was to raise gender diversity awareness and challenge some of the unconscious bias in the workplace.  A 100-km traverse across Baffin Island in minus 40 degrees Celsius.  The trip was very challenging due to the extreme conditions, the cold and the wind chill were atrocious. I caught frostbites on my fingers and some of my colleagues were hit with hypothermia. Although there were times when we wanted to give up, but we pushed through and continued facing the battle no matter what. We proved to many out there that no matter the gender we should all have equal opportunities. The trip had a huge impact on all our colleagues, friends and families and inspired many to do something similar. As an International Keynote Speaker, I am frequently asked to share this story especially, to celebrate IWD on March 8th a focal point in the movement for women’s rights for well over a century.

All efforts to accelerate gender parity and promote gender equality have come a long way in gaining attention and catalysing change, but there is still a long way to go. It is crucial to recognize that women are a part of the workforce and should be respected and treated fairly just like any other individuals.  A prime example is Samira Ahmed, a British journalist, writer and broadcaster at the BBC who claimed having been underpaid by £700,000! How could Ahmed have been paid so much lower compared to a male fellow presenter despite doing a very similar work? Thankfully justice was gained, and Ahmed won the employment tribunal. 

Employees are constantly being reminded of the unconscious bias and how to build awareness further as well as offering diversity and inclusion training.  Hence why strategic planning is imperative in any organization.


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