Are You Biased Without Knowing It?  Learning to uplift and empower

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Stop being your own worst enemy.

Women and the workplace are hot topics these days. Why aren’t there more female CEOs and higher level executives? Why aren’t more women in leadership positions? Why do women still make less money than men in the same jobs? There are many reasons why these inequalities still exist, but there is one that you may not be as familiar with: unconscious bias.

A few years back, I watched a TEDxBasil talk given by Kristen Pressner, the Global Head of Human Resources at a multinational firm. The talk was titled, “Are You Biased? I Am.” Pressner describes how she inadvertently discovered that she had a bias against female leaders while she was a female leader herself. It was an unconscious bias, and one that we all struggle with.

An unconscious bias is a prejudice or unsupported judgment for or against one thing, person or group that is considered unfair. As a result, certain people may benefit while others can suffer.

Now I know what you are thinking: there’s no way I could make this kind of mistake!  However, we receive so much information on a daily basis that our brain resorts to noticing patterns and then developing shortcuts to keep up. Take opening a door for example. If it weren’t for your brain’s shortcuts, you would have to think carefully about your movements every time you opened one. These shortcuts essentially keep us from going mad. But they also contribute to our unconscious bias.

So how could a female leader who advocates for women be biased towards other women? It has to do with subtle messages the world’s been teaching us our entire lives. Just look at how we define the roles of men and women:

●       Men – assertive leaders, strong providers

●       Women – supportive nurturers, emotional caregivers

This is what most of us have learned to believe; therefore, it’s what our unconscious uses when making decisions if we don’t step in and consciously correct it. Even if we’re not intentionally counting someone out, our psyche may be. So how do we fix this?

Kristen came up with a quick test: flip it to test it. Let’s use the above example of male and female characteristics. Now flip it:

●       Women – assertive leaders, strong providers

●       Men – supportive nurturers, emotional caregivers

Does it look strange to you?  If so, then you may be suffering from an unconscious bias toward women in leadership roles.  

The point is to be aware that unconscious bias exists. We all have it. But when we identify that bias, we’re able to override our brain’s shortcuts and stop making those unconscious mistakes. 

Large corporations such as Google and Starbucks have spent millions in training on this pervasive issue. So before you assume that you’re untouched by such prejudice, stop and ask yourself the questions to make sure. Learn to override your unconscious bias, and you’ll learn to uplift and empower other women.

Kristen Pressner’s TEDxBasel talk


Kimberly Sulfridge is a wife, entrepreneur, traveler, volunteer, facilitator, speaker, photographer, writer and mother of two adorable fur babies and four wonderful God-children! Read more about her at https://www.plaidforwomen.com/author/kimberlysulfridge/.