How to Mitigate Unconscious Bias

by Women In Trucking Staff, on Jan 4, 2022 9:29:14 PM

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The default visual for an individual in a leadership role has long been a white, able-bodied, cisgendered male. Rather than examining the skills needed, we assume an individual who fits this profile is capable simply based on how one looks.

Jodi-Detjen-headshot-300x300Our brains are designed to be efficient, says Jodi Ecker Detjen, a Managing Partner with Orange Grove Consulting and MBA Academic Program Director at Suffolk University. For instance, when you walk into a room to grab a jacket, you don’t focus on the furniture or papers lying about. Instead, you concentrate on finding your jacket. “Our brains learn quickly that some things are not important,” Detjen says.

While this ability boosts efficiency, it also can lead to assumptions and biases. Many are inaccurate.

That’s where unconscious bias comes in. As we become socialized, we learn the many social biases regarding how people look, including their gender, race, age, and whether they have a visible disability. “Our brain takes shortcuts,” Detjen says, and assumes people who look a certain way will also act a certain way. Often, these assumptions are unexamined and therefore are unconscious.

For instance, the default visual for an individual in a leadership role has long been a white, ablebodied male. Rather than examining the skills needed, we assume an individual who fits this profile is capable simply based on how one looks, Detjen says. As a result, job candidates who don’t fit this mold often must work extra hard to prove their competence.

melanie-miller2The impact of these implicit and often inaccurate assumptions compounds over time, says Melanie Miller, inclusion strategist and an expert in strategic diversity and inclusion. In some instances men may start with higher salaries, even if they are no more qualified than their female peers. Then, if future employers use a woman’s previous wages to set her new salary, rather than focusing on the value she brings to the position, her initial lower starting salary holds back her earning power indefinitely.

Unconscious bias also damages its victims’ emotional health, Miller says. At work, most employees want to focus on doing their best job and meeting their goals. “Instead, they’re dealing with the headwinds of these stereotypes,” she says.

On top of this are the challenges of “intersectionality,” Miller notes. This refers to the layers of bias women of color, or those with a disability or who are older often face.

Dealing with Unconscious Bias

How can women handle others’ unconscious bias? In the moment, you might tell the person making an inaccurate, disparaging comment to cut it out. You also may try to educate him or her on the impact, Miller says. For instance, if your job allows you to provide for your family, let the individual know that.

Humor is another option, Detjen says. A quick retort can prompt an individual to rethink his or her assumptions.

Detjen also recommends asking questions. Force them to explain how they reached the idea that, for instance, women drivers are taking jobs from more qualified men. Not only are you helping to dispel myths, but your response shows others you’ll respond when others exhibit bias.

To be sure, these actions require women and people of color to take on the work of educating others about their biases. The benefit is that over time, many people should start to rethink their assumptions.

Another step is to stick together, Detjen says. Build coalitions with other women drivers to create safe spaces for each other.

Also follow your company’s policy, Miller says. Often, this will require reporting instances of harassment or bias.

Of course, to be effective requires leadership that is willing to say such behavior is not acceptable, Miller says. To help encourage leaders to act as role models, show the business impact of bias. Given the ongoing shortage of drivers, eliminating a group of qualified individuals—especially when women tend to be safe drivers—makes no sense, she says. Also offer to start a women’s network or host events to help educate men on ways they can be allies.

These can be difficult conversations, especially for women who’ve been told not to make waves or to learn to live in a man’s world. However, if this is your passion, these talks can ensure that you can continue to do what you love, in an environment that’s freer of bias, Miller notes.

Addressing Your Own Bias

Along with confronting others’ biases, it makes sense to address our own. While you may not be able to stop an assumption from popping into your mind, you can control what you do with it. One remedy is to ‘flip the script,” Miller says. Ask yourself if you’d think the same about a person if he or she was a different gender or race.

“Be more self-reflective,” Detjen says. Consider how you might think differently.

And if you make a mistake? First, apologize, Detjen says. Then examine the assumptions you made and how you might have handled the situation differently. As your thoughts change, your behavior likely will change, as well.

“Then, it starts to get fun,” Detjen says. “You can reach out, have conversations and connect.”

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This article was originally featured in Edition 3 of 2021 in our official magazine, Redefining The Road

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The Women In Trucking Association is a non-profit organization with the mission to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments, and minimize obstacles faced by women working in the industry.

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