Shattering Stereotypes: How Unconscious Bias Stands In The Way Of Diversity

Bias is a four letter word. Biases are also prevalent, often unconscious, and necessary to address. From unconscious bias to more ingrained prejudices, they represent unconscious thoughts impacting conscious decisions, and for this reason, we thought it integral to explore biases at The Girls’ Lounge @ SXSW. The panel that we’ve gathered for a live conversation in the Lounge is truly impressive — Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy, Allison Scott, PhD, Author and Researcher at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, Jane Margolis, Author, Researcher and 2016 White House Champion of Change, and moderating the panel, Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director of CODE: Debugging The Gender Gap. They were all gracious enough to sit down with us before the event to talk about diversity, bias and the future of equality.

The Girls’ Lounge: “Let’s get right down to it, everyone! How much does unconscious bias have to do with hold ups on the road to equality?”

Allison Scott: “Unconscious bias is pervasive and affects many subtle attitudes, behaviors, decisions made by individuals themselves and by others around them.”

Robin Hauser Reynolds: “Unconscious bias is also a culprit of the lack of diversity in tech. It is natural for people to hire people like them… Everyone has unconscious or subconscious biases. Becoming aware of what our biases are will help us overcome the limitations that those biases bring to our lives.”

TGL: “So it’s a very human trait, or affliction, depending on how you look at it. How would you say stereotypes fit into that bias?”

AS: “Unconscious biases are based on the implicit stereotypes: associations between a group and a trait, and implicit attitudes: favorable or unfavorable feelings, that we all hold from our socialization and experiences in society.”

RR: “Stereotypes are a huge impediment to women and people of color integrating into the tech sector. You cannot be what you cannot see is an adage that is especially relevant with diversity in the workplace. When there are few role models in tech who are women or people of color, it’s hard for a young woman to imagine they belong in the tech sector.

The stereotype of a programer is that of a young, hoody-wearing white nerdy male. Girls imagine that you have to be anti-social and a geek genius to be a software engineer. This deters them from studying STEM and entering the field.”

TGL: “There are some scary statistics out there about women in STEM. Women make up 47% of the total U.S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations (source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women in the Labor Force). Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (58%) and biological and medical sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (13%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%) (source: NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators).

Considering that women in STEM career paths earn 33% more than women in other professional fields (source: The White House), closing this employment gap is key to closing the wage gap.”

AS: “Absolutely. Unconscious bias is a critical paradigm for understanding persistent inequality in certain domains, such as women in computing, and targeting interventions to address unconscious bias, with hiring, interviewing, promotion, etc.

Interestingly, unconscious bias operates in an unconscious manner and can affect memory and behavior unconsciously AND can be contradictory to our conscious thoughts and beliefs. Research shows that unconscious bias plays out in how we view ourselves and our abilities, our individual behaviors when interacting with others, such as juries, police officers, hiring, and can become institutionalized in policies and practices at the organizational level.”

TGL: “Unconscious bias affects so much. Everything you just mentioned Allison is more outwardly facing, as in it affects how people perceive other people. How does bias impact self perception, and how can we combat that?”

AS: “Imposter syndrome and stereotype threat are real! Understand what it is and use active strategies to avoid giving in to thoughts of inadequacy and inferiority.”

TGL: “That sounds like something we always say: Confidence is beautiful.”

AS: “Always remain confident in your abilities, and your confidence will shine through. Never sacrifice parts of your identity to “fit in” and try to minimize the stereotypes that people will associate with you: Make the environment mold to you and understand that your presence alone dispels stereotypes!”

TGL: “That’s powerful. And really incredible advice for changing the internal dialogue. How about for companies, how can big brands and businesses address the diversity issue that stems from this?”

AS: “First off, [women should] support each other strategically and not give into divide and conquer practices. Secondly, we need to understand that gender is only one category of identity, and women of color, LGBT, international, and disabled women all face different experiences based on the intersectionality of identities. It’s necessary to bring an intersectionality lens to the conversation about gender. And lastly, we need to identify the issues that are most relevant to specific sectors and create strategies and band together to address the issues. ”

Jane Margolis: “It’s also important to mention that the burden of responsibility to change should not be placed on women or people of color. It is the business or organization’s dominant homogenous culture that must change.”

TGL: “How diversity has impacted your personal and professional trajectories?”

Blake Irving: “Gender diversity is a priority at GoDaddy — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we know diverse teams create better products.”

RR: “Diversity brings innovation. Understanding the importance that diversity brings to business, which includes but isn’t limited to greater ROI, more efficiency, less risk aversion, is paramount to implementing more diversity into the workplace.”

TGL: “We couldn’t agree more. Next question: Each of you have devoted yourselves to research and reformation. If you could diffuse your lifelong learning into some must-knows for young, professional women, what would you want to communicate?”

AS: “There is so much to communicate! We know a lot about the barriers that prevent women from full participation and retention, especially in computing fields. And it is important to recognize the barriers, subtle biases, and stereotypes. Yet it is also critical to not let these barriers deter your interests, dreams, and your path.”

TGL: “Thank you all for your time, and we really, really can’t wait for the full panel at SXSW! To sum it all up, could you tell us your personal and professional next steps to shattering stereotypes to make equality a reality?”

RR: “Personally, I have made a pledge to promote diversity by agreeing to participate on panels where there is gender and racial diversity.”

JM: “For diversity to really take hold, the dominant organizational culture must change. Current leaders must have the political will to bring in new voices and faces, listen to challenging and sometimes contrary perspectives, alter their homogenous cultural assumptions and practices, and to treasure the value that diversity will bring.”

BI: “Providing unconscious bias training, developing a mentorship program and recruiting top engineers from colleges have put GoDaddy on a good trajectory, but there’s much more to be done.”

Follow our panelists live on Twitter from 1–2p CST on Saturday, March 12, 2016 when we’ll be tweeting their Shattering Stereotypes conversation live from The Girls’ Lounge.

Written with ❤ by the Girls at The Girls Lounge.


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A place for women to connect, discover their confidence and activate change. If we could have done it alone, we would have by now.

The Girls’ Lounge

A place for women to connect, discover their confidence and activate the changes we want to see. If we could have done it alone, we would have by now