Stories

Even when we have good intentions | Story #1

This is not a book review. I decided going forward that I will publish one monthly blogpost that is not a book review. As much as I read and like to read novels, fiction, and other forms of art, I bet you have noticed how I lean towards self-improvement. As such, I wish to share with my readers and followers stories once a month starting the month of July 2019. These stories are ones from the world of work. In 2006, I officially launched my career. Since then, I lived eight years abroad, pursued my education at the London School of Economics, and worked with top notch organizations; the likes of Amazon, Oracle, and Deloitte. 

Today, I chose to write about the past 14 years in the workplace. 

My story #1 is called even when we have good intentions. 

A while ago, my interest in social cognition has increased. This obviously came on the back of situations I put myself into. Situations that made me aware of thoughts and feelings outside of conscious control. I started to take tests, read articles and books, try to solve riddles, and talk to people around me. I came to realize how organizations, societies, and individuals need education about hidden biases.

I got myself familiar with project implicit[1] which is an initiative founded back in 1998 by three scientists from Harvard University, University of Washington, and University of Virginia.

I took the implicit test. As much as I suffered from biases myself, I now know that I am myself biased about others.

I decided to take this more seriously. I do not want people to feel as bad as I felt over the course of my career so far. I thought that there is something I can do about it. I would have at least tried.

Let me put things in context.

I am a Lebanese woman in her early thirties. I am single. I live alone. I work between the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I hold a managerial position.

I would be impressed if this brief schema does not trigger any expectations or hypotheses in your mind disregard if you come from a developed society or from one that is less developed. The reason is simple yet data-proven[2]: our schema influences our judgement of others regardless of the group we belong to.

If my profile does not ring any bell then I am sure the following[3] will resonate in a way or another.

Men and women hold biases about gender.

White people and people of color hold biases about race and ethnicity.

We have expectations or hypothesis vis-à-vis people in different disciplines.

And the list goes on and on.

In the workplace, people are put under pressure which transforms schemas they have into biases – oftentimes unconscious. Pressures are related to hiring, evaluating, promoting, rewarding, and others.

The American Journal of Sociology holds a number of findings that Correll, Bernard, and Paik gathered. Here are a couple I have extracted.

  • When evaluating identical applications, evaluators rated mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than nonmothers.
  • When evaluating identical application packages, make and female university professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as assistant professor.

I do not want to make a tedious scientific speech. Instead, I wish to share with everyone how I suffered from biases because I am a woman. In many instances, the situation worsened because I was young. Oftentimes, biases were due to the fact that I am an Arab.

Even in multinational and institutionalized environment, I struggled because of the lack of awareness, the legacy practices, the obsolete (or oftentimes non-existing) policies, and above all because of the lack of accountability.

I have also encountered a situation whereby a “diversity hire”, a woman herself, fought for women not to access higher positions, not to gain in visibility, and not to communicate the successes of other women.

There is a lot to be done when it comes to biases. Particularly with regards to gender biases, efforts that are being deployed worldwide are not enough. Despite the wake of women in STEM[4], it is still legitimate to ask whether “math is still just a man’s world[5]”.

This blogpost is the result of my observations coupled with my personal experience and my research. I recently met a woman who is seemingly powerful in the world of work. She suffered from impostor syndrome for long. In one of her public speeches, she addressed young women telling them how she felt like an imposter or fraud because she thought that she was never good enough in comparison to the men around her. You can listen to her on this podcast.

This is not a light topic. There is a perception that bright girls are trouble. In one of the recent books I have read, Carol Dweck (psychologist and author of Mindset – read my review of her book here) shares the results of a number of studies looking at how bright girls handled new and difficult material in comparison to bright boys.

Gender biases are one type of unconscious bias. We also need to be aware of race biases, age biases, and more. I have also come across situations whereby biases were combined. In the past eight years, I have accessed leadership positions. This came with a lot of struggle. In most situations, I was told that I was too young; in some others I was told I was too old. A friend of mine reported being told she was too young for a promotion. In the same year, she gave birth to her first baby. In the next immediate promotion cycle, she was told she was too old.

[1] https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

[2] Professor Abigail Stewart, University of Michigan, Addressing Unconscious Bias, January 2011.

[3] Current Directions in Psychological Science, Fiske, 2002.

[4] https://www.stem.org.uk/

[5] Alice Popejoy and Phoebe Leboy, Journal of Mathematics and System Science, 2012.

 

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