On Biases

oslJypUNo one likes to admit they have a bias.

I mean, it seems to me we’ll do almost anything to avoid the appearance of bias. It’s like we have a built-in allergy to anything that implies that we are anything but, ah, fair and balanced.

Which is a problem, because we surely do have biases. Lots of them, and some that we aren’t even aware of. And recent evidence from a Harvard study suggests we have a clear gender bias. The full article is here, but here’s an excerpt:

The research found that 23 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys preferred male political leaders instead of female, while only 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys preferred female political leaders. Similarly, 36 percent of boys preferred male business leaders to female. (There was no significant difference between girls’ preference for male versus female business leaders.)

So what are we teaching our kids? The same things that may be holding women back today. The data suggest that awareness of gender discrimination may be related to unconscious bias against female leaders, and that this may also be true for racial bias.

Bias “can be a powerful — and invisible — barrier to teen girls’ leadership,” Weissbourd said. “Yet parents and teachers can do a great deal to stem these biases and help children manage them.” [Read the full report here.] Which would mean, yes, more future leaders who are women.

So what do we do? The article suggests five helpful ways parents can seek to counteract gender-based bias, and I recommend parents in particular take a good look. In particular the last two seemed helpful for me.

Want another option? I noticed the other day that the folks at Facebook have produced a series of videos exploring unconscious bias in the workplace. I have yet to listen to them all, but, right off the bat, Vice President of People Lori Goler comes right out and says it:

One important thing that we’ve talked about here at Facebook is that we all have bias, every single one of us. It’s just part of the human condition. And the reason it is important to acknowledge that, is if we don’t acknowledge it, we can’t do anything about it.”


Friends, the first step to overcoming our unconscious biases are admitting they are there in the first place. That’s why when it comes to overcoming the bias of male privilege, I think it starts with admitting that privilege actually exists.

So, let’s all take a good, long look in the mirror. We’re all biased, and those biases run deep. Most of the time, we haven’t consciously bought into the bias, but they are there nonetheless. And while they don’t automatically make us bad people, they do demand our attention.

May we have the courage to face our biases and, eventually, put them to rest.

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