Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: Let’s Get Personal

I had the privilege of attending a hearing in Sacramento presented by The Legislative Women’s Caucus and the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls called Implicit Bias and Its Impact on Women in the Workforce.

While I didn’t take the day off in solidarity with the “Day Without Women” protest on International Women’s Day, I attended this event for personal and professional reasons.

As a professional, I attended the event on behalf of Emtrain to learn more about unconscious bias as it relates to our enterprise solution, Managing Unconscious Bias Program.

As a woman, I attended the event to learn about the experiences of other women in the workplace and hear their stories.

The 3-hour panel was broken into 3 parts to address the science of unconscious bias, personal testimonies from women who have experienced unconscious bias, and strategies to decrease unconscious bias in the workplace.

Having learned about unconscious bias through writing about it and attending Emtrain’s various webinars on the subject, I was excited to learn from the minds of Jeffrey Sherman, Jessica Stender, and Linet Mera.

Of course I was interested in the scientific studies behind implicit bias, but I was the most struck by the testimony portion when Amy Tong, Darci Burrell, and Nada Bassyoni spoke about their personal experiences with implicit bias.

Each of these accomplished women (Bassyoni is in high school and I would still put her in that category) had personal stories about times they had been underestimated, criticized, and straight up discriminated against because of their age, race, religion, and/or gender.

It’s one thing to talk about statistics about the gender pay gap, but it’s another to hear the personal account of a Muslim high school girl who was told she couldn’t wear her hijab on a basketball court for “safety reasons.”

Another woman on the panel, Amy Tong, talked about how she was discouraged from talking about her personal immigration story in a professional setting. And how upon being appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as the Director of the California Department of Technology, her colleagues openly speculated about how she got the role. Surely, she hadn’t gotten the job because of her track record of success.

Darci Burrell, a law partner with 20 years of experience, shared how frequently others assume she is the client instead of the counsel. She said this mistake was rarely malicious, but that says a lot about people’s expectations and stereotypes. Ms. Burrell is a very youthful-looking African American woman who is also an incredibly successful plaintiff’s attorney.

At Emtrain, we’ve often focused on the business case for diversity and inclusion efforts, but I think it’s also important to bring in the personal aspect of what it feels like to be affected by unconscious bias in the workplace.

Explaining that implicit bias exists through numbers and graphs is certainly effective, but let’s not forget the actual human beings these implicit biases affect every day.

Maybe sharing our stories will help others understand why and how women and minorities have a harder time getting ahead due to systematic gender and racial bias toward those populations.

Do you have your own story to tell? Share with us in the comments.

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Allison Baker

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