May 17, 2022

Implicit Bias and Tech

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You are scheduled to attend weekly virtual team meetings. You and one other person on the team are women and you notice that the two of you are the only members of the team who are asked to take notes and send them out at the end of each call.  You don’t mind taking notes; however, you’d like to see the assignment distributed equally amongst all the team. Not just the two women.  

The term implicit bias is not new. In fact, it has been reduced to buzz words for some. However, when you’ve been on the receiving end of any form of an implicit bias, you are quickly reminded of the importance of intent versus impact.   When implicit bias goes unchecked, the behavior continues and eventually, the toxicity is manifested through others mimicking the behavior, teaching it to others and continuing to create workplace cultures and processes that are inequitable. An example of this is the lack of diversity within the tech industry.

Implicit or unconscious bias are our thoughts and stereotypes about a person or a group of people without any validity.  These thoughts happen without our knowledge hence the name unconscious. We all have implicit biases. The key is to be intentional about identifying our biases so that we have control over our actions once the biased thoughts occur.

What is Implicit Bias

According to implicit bias studies (Greenwald & Krieger; Nosek et al), 90% of Westerners associate negative concepts with the group ‘elderly’; 75% of white people (and 50% of black people) show an anti-black bias; and 75% of men and women more readily associate ‘women’ with ‘family’ than ‘career’. [1]Implicit bias typically targets a person’s race, disability, gender, religion, age and sexual orientation, which can have long term effects, especially within the professional realm. Our belief system is a combination of our culture, experiences, and everything we’ve been exposed too (conscious and unconscious) throughout our lifetime.  And because of our brain’s need to categorize information, inherently, we develop biases. The categorization of others is sometimes unfair and even illegal in some professional instances. The impact of implicit bias can eventually diminish our ability to accomplish business goals, acquire new customers and ultimately affect profitability when it goes unchecked.  

Tech Industry and Implicit Bias

As we continue to talk about the need to diversify the tech industry, starting at the recruiting phase is ideal. Creating a pipeline for future hires is a way of increasing the organization’s brand identity within underrepresented communities while building trusting relationships. Organizations should start as young as middle school by partnering with schools and community organizations to expose students to STEAM programs. Anna Smith, Software Engineer at the BBC, states “There are additional problems with tech recruitment processes that may seem to present further barriers to entry for women. Specifically, unconscious bias affects the language in job descriptions.”[2]

Job descriptions are used to assess applicants in the recruiting phase. However, they can also discriminate against diverse candidates because of the language. Job descriptions requiring unnecessary requirements for tech roles such as  advanced levels of education or experiences create barriers for  underrepresented groups.

Implicit bias can also impact AI programs developed that are developed to reduce bias. “If the industry isn’t diverse, then the algorithms which are built will not adapt to diverse ways of thinking. Facial recognition algorithms that have already been designed, have already shown a 35% higher error rate when detecting the gender of darker skinned women as opposed to lighter skinned men. By removing unconscious bias, organizations can provide algorithms with the information needed to be inclusive for everyone.”[3]

Reduce Implicit Bias

Operating in ignorance is no longer chic–   There are multiple ways to prevent microaggressions, such as seeking opportunities to learn more about the subject. Also, continuing to heighten emotional intelligence, by having a keen awareness of ourselves as well as those around us.  

Apologize if you get it wrong– Remember that we can only deal with bias if we’re honest and admit our mistakes.

Speak out if you notice bias in your organization- If you see or hear something, say something. Providing constructive feedback in a discreet way may be uncomfortable. However, it will aid in building a workforce that is inclusive It is going to take everyone to make the strides needed to reduce bias.