WTM IWD - Women Techmakers International Womens Day 2020: Why We Should Advocate Ourselves More?

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On Wednesday, 11 March 2020 Google Developers Group Melbourne and Women Techmakers Melbourne hosted an event for International Women’s Day. With a presentation on biases and then a panel discussion there was a lot to take away and process from this event. As an added bonus the food was amazing[1]. The second article in this series covers the panel discussion.

I am expecting a video of this event to be posted online. Once it is available I will update this article and link to it.

# Why We Should Advocate Ourselves More? - Bernadeth Lucanas

The event kicked off with Bernadeth Lucanas giving her presentation titled “Why We Should Advocate Ourselves More?” Bernadeth works for Google and as such is lucky enough to get “20% time”; she uses this time to focus on diversity and inclusion. In Bernadeth’s presentation she talked about a number of different types of biases, what they are, and the impacts they can cause. As Bernadeth will be presenting this talk at other venues in the future I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll try to cover the key aspects of each of the biases she presented and add my thoughts as well. Many of these biases aren’t limited just to women, they can affect other minority[2] groups as well.

# Performance Bias

Performance bias is the assumption (either conscious or unconscious) that a minority group will tend to be underestimated while the dominant group is overestimated. In the case of gender bias within the workplace this can often result in men being hired based on their potential to undertake a role, whilst women are hired based on their past performance. This has a significant flow-on impact in terms of career progression and opportunities.

# Attribution Bias

Attribution bias manifests when the majority are more likely to receive credit and the minority are more likely to be blamed for failings. This leads not only to a loss of self-confidence in members of the minority group, but also means that minority group members are more likely to be talked over and interrupted. Thankfully, as individuals we can have a direct impact on combatting this bias by looking out for people being talked over and interrupted and calling it out. Personally I’ve also seen some very good implementations of “one voice at a time” where everyone is willing to call out those who interrupt.

# Likability Bias

At least in western society (I can’t comment on other societies due to lack of experience), men are expected and encouraged to be assertive, while women are directed toward likability. This is especially obvious when you think of how people often describe children; I’ve heard young girls described as “bossy” but I have never heard this term used for a young boy, instead boys are described as “assertive” or at most “a bit aggressive”. This difference in upbringing is then compounded throughout life until women have been conditioned to be likeable and men assertive. Especially in business, being nice or likeable can diminish the appearance of competence.

# Maternal Bias

Maternal bias is one of the few biases that is only based on gender. It is the bias that a woman will be less career focussed. Bernadeth mentioned cases where people weren’t hired as “she’ll have children soon”, and other parenthood related excuses. The flow on effect of this is a reduction in career opportunities, and an intensification of performance bias.

# Affinity Bias

Affinity bias occurs not just in relation to discriminatory factors, but also in relation to a range of other factors. Affinity bias can be defined as a preference to like those who are most similar to us. This results in hiring managers favouring those who not only appear similar to them, but also those who have similar thought processes. Many studies have been done to highlight the benefits of diversity of thought in the workplace; one of the easiest ways to gain this diversity is to hire those from different backgrounds, this can include hiring women 8n a male dominated industry, people of a different cultural background and to actively work against discrimination.

# Double Discrimination & Intersectionality

Bernadeth finished her presentation by discussing the additional challenges when people are a member of multiple minority groups. It was implied that for each additional minority group someone is a member off the discrimination and challenges increase exponentially. This manifests in people who are members of 3 or more discriminatory groups facing almost insurmountable challenges.

# Some Thoughts

The best way to overcome these biases is to be conscious of them and actively work against them. In the workplace hire for diversity (both in people and in thought);implement processes that work against discriminatory factors; and if you see discrimination in any form call it out. By encouraging a culture of calling out and drawing attention to discrimination, the occurrence of discrimination will reduce. Even just being conscious of our biases will have a positive impact (this is well documented in published psychological papers) and will allow us to consciously negate the effects of our biases.

# Notes

  1. The food provided on the night included a selection of options from Nandos, all served in a way that meant there was minimal chance of any transmission of COVID-19 through touch. The cupcake break part way through the evening was amazing (I would have been happy if the Nandos was missed and we just had double cupcakes instead). Normally I wouldn’t comment on the food when doing a meetup summary, but my partner suggested in this case it deserved a special call out. ↩︎

  2. For the purposes of this document I am considering a minority group to be any grouping of people by potentially discriminatory features or traits (such as mental health issues, race, religion, gender, disability or others) that is under-represented within the area or field being discussed relative to their proportion within the general population. ↩︎