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To Bias or Not to Bias…

November 18, 2012 at 3:34 am PST

” We do not see things as they are, we see things as WE are” -- Anais Nin

A bias is a simplification that our brain goes through when we are in front of a situation we’ve been before. In that instance we rush decision and even behave inappropriately based on different elements like sex, age, abilities, workplace environment and so on.

Biasing people and situations is HUMAN, it’s a part of your brain that activates and respond to danger.

We just need to be aware of it so we can adjust our behavior accordingly: it’s very easy to fall into “fortune telling”  -- e.g. I know what’s going to happen- and “mind reading” behavior , e.g I know he doesn’t like me .

How many times we’ve been introduced to new people and instantly categorized people in pre-built boxes.

What’s the impact in a working environment?

Well funny enough the first impression is the wrong one, most of the time.

It might have happened to you too, you might have underestimated somebody that later on revealed himself like a bless for the team, the ideal candidate for a job or somebody who became your best friend.

 

Today I want to tell you 2 stories. These are stories of people that have been impacted by the bias more than anybody else and have been shining for what they’ve done and the persons they are.

The first one is about a young lady, who achieved a senior marketing position very early in her career, got 3 degrees in business and suffers from cerebral palsy, a diseases that cause physical disability in human development. I’ll call her A.

A. has got a well structured career now at Cisco, but it has not always been like that.

She got several awards for her outstanding performance, but back in time she hardly imagined it could be so, as some individuals would have misjudged her capabilities on the workplace due to her physical condition.

Sometimes, movements for her are difficult and even a simple one like walking to the restroom from her desk, could be a challenge.

Flexibility to work from home and technology like video, did the trick. And the beauty of it is that she didn’t receive even a special treatment: she has exactly the same possibility as just everybody else.

Cisco employees are empowered to work from anywhere and from any device, while home or travelling on the train as if they were at their desk.

A. allowed Cisco Marketing to shine and Cisco trusted her and allowed her to make this possible.

The second story is about an engineer, his name is Sean.

He’s another successful Cisco employee working everyday on troubleshooting and configuring Cisco equipment. Sean is blind.

He has done several different jobs from developing camera films, to being a manager in a satellite networking company and now he is a multi-recognized engineer in cisco TAC.

Sean delivered a presentation to his team about what would have worked for him and what wouldn’t have worked and in short time he’s been able to successfully build strong relationship with them.

Of course technology plays an important role in Sean’s everyday job, but seen the result, does it matter?

Getting around the bias is about establishing a human contact, finding commonalities, reframing the situation, it’s all about people trying to understand other people.

At the moment, 1 out of 5 people is visually impaired and 70% of them are unemployed and among them only few have professional careers, like Sean.

Did you know that Louis Braille, Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet and even St Paul were all visually impaired?

Lesson learned is that when you are in front of a bias, you just need to be aware of it.

Sean and A. have had the guts to push themselves to their limits, working harder than anybody else and achieved success, nevertheless their physical condition.

They have taken the risk and have proven many people wrong, the very same people that didn’t trust them.

Meeting Sean and A. has been an enriching experience, they are special people with different perspective on the world, they certainly deserve all the success they are having and to shine as the brightest starts in the sky.

Hopefully their story is a confirmation for many and a discovery for few others.

My question to you is: how do you get yourself more aware of your bias behavior? And if you haven’t before, how are you going to control it?

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Singing in the Rain

I know that we English tend to obsess about the weather, but please indulge me for a moment.

The terrible summer we’ve had in the UK got me thinking this week about rain – and about acid rain, in particular.

Acid rain is a term coined in 1872 by Robert Angus Smith but came into popular use in the 1980′s as the broader population began to understand the damage it can do and the gradual impact it has.  The harm it causes is incremental and cumulative. Take a look around any of the world’s cities and you will see its insidious, silent and on-going effects on the corroded façades of buildings, or the worn faces of statues. No one notices it. No one thinks about it as it falls imperceptibly, leaving devastating and irreparable damage in its wake.

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Take a Chamce on Me

I read a really interesting piece referencing work by Fariborz Ghadar, director of Penn State’s Center for Global Business Studies. He makes the case for sourcing and nurturing talent from different talent pools. From broadening outreach efforts and relationship to find top candidates across all dimensions of diversity, to training for managers in inclusiveness and objectivity to ensure they expose new talent to a full array of experience and opportunities, Ghadar argues that companies that fail to leverage and nurture diversity in their employee base: “will find themselves poaching talent to offset scarcities in the quantity and quality of talent in their narrow pipelines.”

Many of us often pride themselves on our ability to think outside the box.

But does this extend to how we think about talent within our workforce? When we make assessments about who is suitable for a role, do we consider the full array of functions where talented people with transferable skills could bring value and difference to our teams, regardless of whether they might take a little longer to come up to speed? Or do we simply look for people who are an easy fit?

Or to put in another way: when you make decisions or assessments of others, are you aware of your biases or of the filters you might be applying? And do you ever challenge them?

To put it simply, continuing to do the same thing with the same people might well see us miss out on new and different results.

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So you think you know it all?

So you think you know it all?

If you haven’t seen this advert for Carlsberg beer, take a minute to watch it.

Beer’s not my preferred tipple, but I do think this a really clever twist on the way that preconceptions keep us in their thrall (as well as a good ad for lager.)

A series of couples are sold tickets to see a movie. However once inside, they realise that their seats are the last two in the middle of the theatre. And that every other seat is occupied by a Hell’s Angels biker, covered in tattoos.

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