Bias is often characterised as stereotypes about people based on the group to which they belong or based on a characteristic they possess, such as their gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Whilst the much derided and rather one-dimensional unconscious bias training may have seen better days, for many of us, our lived experience has made experiencing bias a near regular occurrence.
However, the events of 2020 have now encouraged and emboldened many to call these unacceptable incidents out, no matter how unintended.
My good friend Larry Drake II was the African American CEO of Coca Cola Nigeria and Equatorial Africa. He had taken quite a tough stance on driving efficiency throughout his new patch. Many of the company’s delivery trucks were now on far more sensible and cost-effective routes, though this was not a universally popular decision with many loyal customers.
Among them was an elderly woman who delivered her eloquent and beautifully handwritten complaint about the recent route changes in Lagos in person. Larry had been out. He decided to go and see her himself, soon finding out that she had been selling a range of chilled Coca Cola soft drinks for well over 40 years on the same street corner. Larry explained that he had indeed rerouted many of their trucks to drive efficiency and reduce costs.
She was impressed that he had turned up in person, and they soon struck up a positive conversation. As they chatted and exchanged pleasantries, the elderly but razor-sharp senior citizen casually mentioned that her son was studying at Stanford University and her daughter was at Harvard.
It turned out that she actually owned more than 40 street corner operations in Lagos, and all at strategically vibrant locations. It wasn’t long before they had reached a mutually acceptable arrangement and her deliveries were soon back on schedule.
In this case, unconscious bias gave way to the most wonderful, instructive and enduring partnership. It’s a reminder that every new relationship opens a door to a different world and new possibilities.
Sadly it doesn’t always end up that way.
NOT FOR YOU
There is a swish new chocolate shop on Marylebone High Street, just a few minutes from our office. It looked and smelt so welcoming. We were going away for the weekend that very evening, so I stepped in to get us something special for after dinner.
A smart and well-dressed couple came in just after me, laughing out loud. The woman behind the counter had ignored me, but came out to greet them. She pointed at me as she looked at her assistant. I was greeted by the pleasant young man. She proceeded to gracefully explain their offerings to the couple and gave them some extravagant pieces of chocolate to taste.
The assistant came with similarly stunning chocolate pieces for me. She instantly shook her head at him and mouthed, “No way”. I instantly asked her, “Why not?”
The shop froze, the couple had seen this all play out. The couple both gave her back the chocolates, apologised to me and told her how offensive her attitude was before walking out. She said nothing. He apologised.
I bought an expensive amount of chocolate from the helpful young man, just to ensure that he got the message about his exemplary service. I then shared with her just how she had made me feel, and that I would not be coming back. We need to be more than not racist, but actively anti-racist.
WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT BIAS
It is essential that we all start to take tangible action against the real dangers of bias. It is all around us, but there is a lot that can actually be done about it.
Whilst looking through some CVs for an international assignment, a good friend of mine, who is a highly experienced US headhunter, was shocked with CVs from the UK. He couldn’t believe that they contained the following information: addresses, school and colleges attended, qualifications, marital status, children, gender and date of birth, all clearly legible. This was illegal in many states in the US. He was amazed that we still lived with this obvious fuel for bias and discrimination.
This information is not only unnecessary at this stage of the selection process – but it is not helpful or sensible. Your height, weight, race, religion, ethnicity, marital or parental status, political affiliation, hair colour or eye colour should all be left private at this stage.
How level is your playing field for talent? Take a stand and remove all the unnecessary information from the CVs and application forms that you receive; you really will have made a difference. When we look to exclude no one and include everyone, it becomes the pathway to both happiness and success.