Recognizing bias…a pervasive issue in life itself
Personal bias and preconceived notions are ever-present in our society…from the choices we make about who to interact with, to the stores we choose not to buy at, to the people we hire, it’s nearly inescapable. But how do you solve the problem? Well, I’d propose that it starts with a quick look internally at the biases you may have before even trying to recognize and judge the biases of others. In order to look effectively at your own biases (even if you don’t recognize them from the start…and even if they aren’t harmful to others) requires a bit of emotional intelligence and the ability to step back for a second and acknowledge why you are reacting to a situation the way you are.
During the first year of my MBA program, I took a class which required us to build a leadership activity for younger students. The activity I helped my team build leveraged the diverse backgrounds and experience from all members of the team (we had team members from Brazil, Nigeria, Russia, and the US) to teach the children about unconscious bias. During this activity we asked them to brainstorm the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characteristics that they think of when they think of what it means to be American. They threw many common stereotypes on the board under both categories…from “free” all the way to “entitled.” After they finished their brainstorming, we had the international members of our teams talk about what they believed was true about Americans before coming to the US and how their thoughts changed after living here for a while. The true “AHA” moment came when they realized that everyone really does have their own opinion about a situation before arriving...and that unless you seek out the perspective of others, you may never know where they are coming from.
Unless you seek out the perspective of others, you may never know where they are coming from.
Fast forward to today…I’m taking a class called ‘Venture Capital Experience’ which requires a deep dive into the world of Venture Capital (VC). While this originally seemed like a daunting experience, after digging into the first few blogs, I quickly realized that much of the subject matter that pertains to Venture Capital also relates to issues faced by those who aren’t fully immersed in the world (stay with me here…).
The blog I focused on this week discussed how bias influences the investing behaviors of VC firms and how these biases can be detected. An interesting nuance of this article was the fact that bias didn’t always have to air on the side of gender or minority specific firms (something we often think of exclusively when discussing unconscious bias). While not explicitly stated, my individual perspective was broadened when I came to the realization that a firm’s bias could be towards something such as an industry or mindset/behavior of the founders. This recognition is not only an opportunity to reflect on my own biases, but also to acknowledge that as a company seeking funding or as an individual trying to find help or as a student trying to expand their knowledge, we all should strive to analyze our behaviors and be aware of the way our actions are affecting us within an organization and contributing to the way others are viewing us from the outside. We should strive to learn, understand, and grow always and be aware of the ways that we can enlighten others as opposed to just protecting ourselves from the impact of the bias others may bring to the table.
Strive to learn, understand, and grow always.