It was the middle of a sunny afternoon and my ten-year-old daughter and I were walking across a parking lot headed into the grocery store. I noticed a woman sitting in a car we were about to pass, her eyes wide as she looked at us and quickly reached across the passenger seat, locking the door. By the time we passed in front of her car she was sitting bolt upright, staring ahead. It was quite a few years ago, but I think I actually stood and glared at her for a moment. (At least, I wanted to. And probably would today!)Bias is alive and well and living in our world, which is not earth-shattering news to those who experience it every day.If people don’t lock their car doors when you pass (for example) or you think it doesn’t affect you think about these:
- Who has made your heart beat a little faster when you noticed them approaching your car, or walking down the street toward you?
- Who caused you to lock your car door or slide your phone onto your lap, holding it in one hand with your thumb on the emergency button?
- Who has made you think, “Oh, I better be friendly because I don’t want them to think I’m prejudiced.”?
- In conversation, when have you informed someone, “I have a really good friend who is (black, gay, Muslim, fill in the blank).”
- Who have you responded positively to simply because they reminded you of somebody you liked, or vice versa?
When we encounter another person we immediately notice three aspects of that person. Most people think it’s their:
- Smile or expression
- Tone of voice
- Manner of walking
- Eye contact or
- Apparent social status
The first things you notice are their (1) gender, (2) race and (3) age. And, if you’re like the rest of us, you react to that person based on those three characteristics.
A gut reaction, positively or negatively projecting attributes on someone without knowing anything else about them, represents a personal bias. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines bias as “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.”
NEWSFLASH #1: We all have biases.
NEWSFLASH #2: Biases aren’t good or bad.
They just are; they are a reflection of how we see the world. With no other information they cause us to view some things negatively and some things positively – like interviewing a job applicant JUST because she was from a little town in Canada across the river from where I grew up. (Yes, I really did that!)
It’s how we choose to act on those biases that can be good or bad, especially if we violate laws designed to keep us from discriminating against people. Or, when we unfairly attribute positive (or negative) traits to someone based on our personal bias, and then make decisions based on that. (For the record, the applicant from Canada did not get the job.)
Studies abound showing racial and gender bias in hiring and career progression. These are proven biases against people with “ethnic” (as opposed to “white”) sounding names and women: Same resume, different name, different outcome. A study cited in the American Economic Review found that resumes with “white” sounding names were 50% more likely to be called for an interview than those with “African-American” sounding names. (So glad my 17-year-old nephew, DJ, is changing his name from Desquan Jalil to David Joseph.)
Bias isn’t just about race or gender. It’s about age, beliefs, disabilities, education, habits (like smoking), language, money, nationality, physical appearance, politics, religion, salaries, sexual orientation, the neighborhood you came from, weight and anything else that is important to you or is part of your core – usually unconscious – value system.
FACT: less than 15% of American men are over six feet tall, yet almost 60% of male CEOs in the US are over six feet tall. Do you think those hiring managers consciously considered that? Hardly.
Unconscious – or conscious – biases result in unfounded conclusions which can have detrimental effects, especially in hiring when we overlook a potentially excellent candidate because of a personal bias, or when we quickly move a candidate through to hire just because she reminds us of our favorite aunt, Amelia.
Check out our nine tips to avoid being swayed by a bias!
If you wonder why the woman in the car was so quick to lock her door as my daughter and I were about to walk by – I am white. My daughter is black. It was not the first, the only, or the last time we have had, or will have, a similar experience.
Bias is alive and well and living in our world. Whether you recognize it or not.
To get an entirely UNbiased view of your job applicants and employees use a validated, reliable and objective assessment! Contact us for a free trial!
It seems work / life balance (WLB) is still a hot topic. I know this because I talk to a lot of women. But I also know it because I was in a women’s group discussion about it the other day when a workshop on the topic was referred to as “fluff.”
For younger women it’s hot because they’re still trying to figure it out. In fact a 2011 Pricewaterhouse Coopers study found that WLB is the number one priority for young women entering the workforce. For women who have been, shall we say, around the world of work for a while it’s hot because they’re sick of talking about it and many have a “WHY-CAN’T-WE-TALK-ABOUT-SOMETHING-ELSE??” mindset. And undoubtedly some women don’t want to talk about it because they think we shouldn’t have to talk about it. Maybe because men don’t talk about it, so why should women?
Yet we still talk about it. Even when we talk about not wanting to talk about it. And we will probably continue to talk about it for a long time because it’s not going to go away. Because as long as we have home and we have work the issue of balancing our two worlds is here to stay. In my mind that moves it into “an-issue-that-affects-my-life” and that is not “fluff.”
Perhaps instead of not talking about it altogether, we should think about changing the conversation. Instead of looking at this as a “woman’s” issue, we should realize that it is an issue that affects women as well as men and our work places as well. Maybe it’s just an “issue.” In a March 2013 issue of US News fifty percent of men admitted to struggling with WLB, and fifty-six percent of women agreed.
Doesn’t look like a woman’s issue to me. But if it’s not an issue at all it sure affects a lot of people.
Four thoughts about work / life balance that might change the conversation:
- We all have to deal with issues of balance. Gender aside, everyone has to deal with needing to leave work early for doctor’s appointments (our own, our kids’ or our parents’). All of us would prefer at times to be home when we have to be at work, or prefer to be at work when we have to be at home. There are times when all of us think we work too many hours and don’t have enough time for ourselves or we don’t have enough time to get the work done. While WLB does not mean equal parts work and equal parts home, it does mean that something, somewhere always has to give. We just can’t do it all.
- Gender stereotypes contribute to misunderstandings regarding WLB. In our society when a child is sick it is usually the mother who stays home. We hear more about the moms who turn down promotions or leave work early so they don’t miss their kids’ soccer games. Does that mean men don’t do it? Of course not. Since this behavior is less acceptable for men they don’t necessarily tell people about it. The stereotype that this is what women do prevents men from being able to deal with the career effects when they decide to forego a promotion or check out early every Thursday for a soccer game. Heck, the US Census Bureau (quoted in the NY Times blog) even considers the mother as the “designated parent” and refers to it as “childcare” when mom is absent and only the father is there. A stay-at-home-dad is actually considered to be providing “childcare.” Apparently that saying, “It’s not babysitting if you’re the dad” is not actually true.
- Imbalance in any area of our life creates stress. And stress contributes to illness. Eighty-three percent of US employees admit to feeling stressed out. Stress causes cardiovascular problems. It kills brain cells, affects our memories, impacts our decision-making abilities and contributes to diabetes. It is estimated that seventy-five to ninety percent of health care treatments are directly or indirectly related to stress. Chronic, negative stress is not good for us, and the effects of stress are not for women only.
- Stress creates problems at work. It’s no surprise that stressed out employees are less productive; less focused. They are more fatigued and distracted, which explains why the risk of injury for stressed out workers is thirty-seven percent higher than it is for non-stressed employees. They put in the time but don’t get as much done, which likely causes more stress and keeps the WLB cycle of imbalance going.
The work / life balance issue is real. Even if you have figured it out in your life, a lot of people haven’t and they could probably use your help figuring it out. The issue is here to stay so we might as well accept that we’re going to keep talking about it. But let’s try to change the conversation; accept that it is an issue, and that it affects all of us. Then we can acknowledge how it affects us – women, men, employers, work groups, businesses. Only then will the conversation of what we can do about it be meaningful for everyone involved.
Or, at least, everyone who still wants to talk about it.
While the word “friends” can definitely go along with “collaborators” the word “competitors” generally isn’t considered to be a natural next step or a word to be included with the other two.
Yet that is exactly what my friends and collaborators Janet Treer (The Treer Group) and Kathleen King (The Power of Possibilities) and I are to each other – friends, collaborators, competitors.
Our businesses are similar … We are all certified coaches. We all do some level of strategic planning, team and leadership development and training. There are definite overlaps but there are also definite specialties and approaches unique to each of us.
We also all happen to believe that there is enough business to go around.
And so we are collaborating on the KEE to Your Future Mentor Program – Know, Engage, Emerge! – a program that will pair women who are entering or re-entering the workforce or who want to develop in their career goals with seasoned business women who will provide support along the way. This morning we presented a Professional Development Friday workshop through The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce – Maximize Momentum through Mentoring. This session provided some guidelines for people who want to create a mentoring program in their workplace.
This isn’t a new view, and it isn’t unique to our little businesses in Lancaster, PA. Harvard Business Review just posted a blog in which they refer to such collaboration as “collective impact” – “Collaboration Is the New Competition.” They may be talking mega-corporations impacting the world, but there’s no reason why mini-corporations can’t have a significant impact in their little worlds by collaborating. HBR provided five “lessons for driving large-scale social change through collaboration.” I’d like to suggest five steps for impacting your local community through collaboration:
- Agree to play in the sandbox nicely. At the very start of our collaboration Janet, Kathleen and I identified what we each do and within that what we prefer to specialize in. Sure, I can do strategic planning. But Janet specializes in that. Likewise I’ve done supervisory training but that’s Kathleen’s specialty. And either of them could probably take a leadership team through overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team but that’s my specialty. We’ve acknowledged each others’ specialties and agreed not to step on anybody’s toes.
- Identify what each is willing to contribute to the partnership. This includes time, money and other resources. How will expenses be handled? How will we handle payments for any services as part of the program? How is time valued? Who does what? What resources do we each have that we are willing to share? This is the sort of thing that has to be out on the table so there are no surprises.
- Divide up project duties based on expertise and interest. I think I can safely speak for Janet and myself when I say that we are so thankful that Kathleen is more of a stickler for details and organization than either of us. She keeps us on task via her meeting minutes and action steps.
- Co-promote each participating business. Our mentoring workshop was created to help organizations have a foundation to implement their own mentor program. Among the three of us Janet was interested in working one-on-one with companies to help them develop a program. Kathleen and I would welcome the opportunity to provide the training for a company, but we really aren’t interested in getting in there to do the nitty gritty of creating the program with them. We are more than happy to promote Janet and her business in that regard. And we know that she is equally prepared to promote our businesses as well.
- Give each other grace. Speaking only for myself, so far this collaboration has been a completely positive experience. I’ve already learned a lot from both Janet and Kathleen and it’s been enjoyable spending time with them and working on this together. I imagine at some point there might be a disagreement. This is, after all, real life. And because of the trust we’ve developed and continue to nurture I know we’ll be able to give each other the grace to work through whatever that issue will be.
We may not be dealing with $8 million bond issues or 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions. But in our corner of the world we intend to show the business community that competitors can be friends and, yes, also collaborators.
(Want information about the KEE to Your Future Mentor Program? Contact us or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you!)
“What we’re really looking for is a nice looking female to sell for us.”
Didn’t that kind of hiring go out with the collapse of Pan Am?
Apparently not – since a business owner just said that to me.
“Sex and the working girl” was cited in a recent synergize! survey as one of several challenges that women in the workforce face that men do not face. Others high on the list included work / life balance (number one at 34% of respondents), being taken seriously, pay inequities and gender stereotypes.
synergize! is excited to launch The Women’s Center to help women in the workforce deal with these unique challenges. (I mean, c’mon … can you imagine somebody saying, “What we’re really looking for is a nice looking guy who can sell for us.”)
Ummmm … I don’t think so.
The Women’s Center consists of programs designed for women to help them develop their potential, deal with their unique challenges and enjoy the support of other women in the process. On August 23rd we will introduce the following programs and services:
- Peer Accountability Groups
- Individual one-on-one coaching
- The Kee to Your Future Mentor Program (a partnership with the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will be officially launched at the October 6, 2011, Professional Women’s Forum)
- Our four steps to success process to develop stellar employees
Please be our guest for lunch on the 23rd to learn more about these exciting programs. Or, if you’re not close enough to come for lunch, I hope you’ll contact us to learn how The Women’s Center can be a resource for you or for the women on your team.
- August 23, 2011
- 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
- FREE lunch
- The Hampton Inn, Greenfield Road, Lancaster, PA
The event is free but you must register to attend. Just contact us and we’ll add you to the list!
Meanwhile … I think I’ll go look for a nice looking guy to sell for me ...