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Why Unconscious Bias is the One that Doesn’t Belong

Why Unconscious Bias is the One that Doesn’t Belong

Unconscious bias
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Unconscious Bias

After hearing Sharon McKimm from Andovar talk on unconscious bias at Retro Live in May, the topic of unconscious bias has been on my mind, ironic, I’m aware. More than ever, I’ve begun to notice the prejudices that have hindered my opportunities in my personal life and my career.

Who am I?

  • 26 years of age,
  • Irish
  • Caucasian
  • Single
  • Bachelor of Arts

Seems a little simple doesn’t it? That’s because it’s not that simple. There are so many characteristics that make up who I am, yet these are the labels I am judged by when someone first meets me. We are all humans with personalities and unique brains. Why are we so quick to stereotype a person by a few standard characteristics? Might not seem that bad to you though, I’m young but I’m educated and not tied down to a family or a partner, yet to someone else this might seem like recipe for disaster, especially when hiring for new positions in business.

Oh, sorry I forgot to also mention that I’m female.

Has your expectation changed of me?

Or did one of my other traits impede your opinion of me?

This is the main characteristic that affects me on a daily basis as a person in business as well as my personal life. My gender. My sex. The chromosomes I was born with apparently determine how intelligent I am, and how capable I am of working to a high standard.

So, what is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias refers to the opinions we hold but we are not in control of. They are social stereotypes about groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. It’s important to remember that unconscious or conscious biases are not only ethnicity or race even if these are well documented. Biases exist towards any social group, e.g. age, gender, physical abilities, sexual orientation, social status, physical attributes i.e: weight and any other possible characteristic you can describe a person by. So many endless ways we can be bias.

We all hold unconscious beliefs, but whether we think you do or not is the reason it is unconscious. We can hold these beliefs about the smallest groups of people such as people with tattoos or piercings, people who dye their hair or people who study at a particular university. It is human tendency to organise the social world by categorising.

Starting to see how unconscious this is? Are you recognising any that you hold yourself?

Even some of us here at Retro Digital have experienced some biases in the past

“When it comes to bias, I think people are far too quick to judge. I’ve lost count of the times people have made comments or have been left really shocked when they’ve found out Retro Digital is my company, and that’s just because of my age and sex. I even had 3 fellow CEOs make comments about me just being an employee in one week – one who refused to speak to me because he “didn’t have time for just a marketer”, one who decided he should get on a busy bus instead of me and Courtney because he had a meeting to go to and students can wait (irony was we were travelling from the airport to a business trip ourselves), and another lady who told me that I have such a nice boss for letting employees travel. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – I could rant on for ages about the times I’ve had to pretend I’m Alan over emails just to be taken seriously.”

Sarah, Managing Director

“My abilities as a young woman have been questioned by other men and women in business. I do nothing but attempt to break their bias by proving my gender and age has nothing to do with my abilities in the workplace. In my personal life, I relish in enjoying the more “masculine” things, such as DIY projects that i’ve been informed are a bit too “manly” for my delicate hands.”

Courtney, Client Success Manager

“I’ve been pretty lucky and haven’t suffered much discrimination in business. I have found, though, that a few people abroad haven’t taken me all that seriously because of the Irish stereotype of just drinking and having fun all the time. I have been shocked, though, at what the ladies in the team have to put up with on a daily basis. I had no idea that sexism was such an issue until I started in business, and it’s about time that stops. There’s no place for bias of any kind in business.”

Alan, Director

“Having a coworker or even a fellow manager looking down at you just because of the fact of being a young mother, full time employee while doing a bachelors degree on the side via distance learning is not the nicest thing to happen to you. “Well you are woman on top which makes it even harder to convince people on certain matters.” – didn’t make it much better. Honestly every now and then you will come across some idiots in business. People looking down on you because they are absolute full of themselves. I should have reported that guy right away to HR. Well I didn’t. Why? Because I was totally confused and couldn’t believe my ears. Yet – eventually I opened up about that experience to my former boss and yeah, he got what he deserved and got fired rather quick.”

Rosi, Head of German

“It’s quite a difficult pill to swallow as a new business owner when you realise that there is definitely an imbalance in how seriously people will take the opinions and ideas of a woman versus those of a man. Personally, I’ve experienced clients respond much more positively to suggestions that come from my male colleagues even if those ideas were mine. I’ve even had the experience more than once where men in particular make it quite clear that they don’t have the same level of respect for my professional ideas as they do for those coming from a male team member. The most unfortunate side effect of this very tangible bias is that to be successful in such a competitive business environment; the most effective way to manage this issue is to largely ignore it, or worse, funnel important correspondence through a male business partner. I have even had conversations with business people I have great respect for, only to be shocked that they feel comfortable telling me that they would hire a man over a woman even if both candidates were equally suitable for the position.”

Dáire, Head Copywriter

Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were discriminated against because of some superficial aspect of who you are?

The Benefits of Diversity

Increased adaptability. A team or group of different people and from different backgrounds can provide a variety of perspectives to problem solving.  

Better customer service. With diverse skill sets and abilities along with empathy for different social backgrounds and cultures, the needs of a consumer can be better met, globally.

Greater innovation. Businesses with diverse leadership tend to perform better when it comes to innovation. This is a key driver for internal innovation and business growth.

Easier recruitment and retention . When you begin to welcome prospective employees regardless of race, gender, age, or background you allow yourself to choose from a larger pool of people meaning you can find the best person for the job in the job market. Embracing diversity can also improve existing staff members’ loyalty to your organization.

Final thoughts?

Are you ready to take a good hard look in the mirror and rid your company of unconscious bias? It starts from the top, and that’s why we’re so passionate about not letting it anywhere near Retro Digital. And remember, if you’d like some bias-free digital marketing, you know where we are!

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