Last week, I attended an IT industry event. It was fantastic, and unlike most tech events, there was almost a 50/50 gender split between the guests.
I was thoroughly enjoying speaking with the other guests and discussing the work I do with WORK180 along with the reasons for co-founding the company. Having come from 9 years in ICT, I developed a passion for encouraging women to choose careers in ICT, and other industries under-represented by women such as engineering or mining.
At one stage, I was speaking with a male attendee (male #1) about our careers- he thought WORK180 was an awesome initiative- a reaction I’ve grown used to seeing. But then, I was faced head on with a healthy dose of unconscious bias and pure ignorance.
We were joined by another male (male #2), who initially, only introduced himself to male #1, barely even looking at me. Male #2 asked male #1 all about his business, IT background and why he was at the event, almost with his back turned at me. I could tell male #1 was feeling awkward about me being excluded and politely interrupted male #2 to introduce me into the conversation.
I proceeded to tell male #2 what I did and all about WORK180. This was his reply;
“Great initiative, I met a girl who could code once. We hired her on a project of ours, I couldn’t believe it, but she could actually code just as well as the boys on the team.”
I could not believe my ears! Without a second thought, I responded with:
“Wow, I’m surprised that was your first experience of a woman who can code given the tenure you’ve had in the industry. What you’ve just said there is exactly what we’re trying to change, I hope that one day we can live in a society where it’s not a surprise if a girl can code as well as a boy.”
I was so shocked by his comment that I completely forgot to point out that the first ever programmer was a woman – does that mean men can code just as well as women?
He looked embarrassed to say the least. This was a classic example of unconscious bias – referring to the bias we have, but are unaware of. Every second, humans take in huge amounts of information and our brains can only consciously process a fraction of this data. Therefore, we rely on “auto-pilot” for the majority of our thoughts and actions.
At WORK180 we’ve seen a number companies combat unconscious bias, such as removing the names from CVs to ensure the candidate’s background is evaluated based solely on merit. Companies are also looking beyond the one-off training session and thinking out of the box when it comes to implementing strategies moving forward. For example, one organization in an industry under-represented by women has appointed C-level female mentors for senior male managers after their initial training session. These managers are now looking at everyday situations through a very different lens.
If you’ve had any experiences with unconscious bias, I’d love to hear about it- likewise if you’ve rolled out unconscious bias training in your organization with positive results.