International Women’s Day: Break the Bias
Despite a recent positive trend, the number of women in technology is still low compared to other industries. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, and I think it is worth discussing what bias means.
Anyone who has worked in the corporate world has undergone company-required training for everything from cyber security to sexual harassment. More recently, courses such as equity, diversity, and inclusion have taken center stage. Some employees feel offended; some feel it doesn’t apply to them; and others think it’s too big a topic to only spend one hour once a year on. Personally, I have experienced all three emotions.
Misunderstandings, wrong word choices, and sometimes plain ignorance gets labeled racist or sexist or whatever-ist way too quickly and easily these days. Given our current political climate and divisions across multiple identities, there’s not a lot of dialogue going on. In fact, it’s a lot of monologue – and it’s not conducive to civil discussion and understanding, which is the ultimate goal.
During the summer of 2020, amidst the unrest in so many American cities, my company hired a firm to come in and deliver an ad hoc session on what was called “diversity training.” Despite the fact that the company had a really good mix of race, nationality, gender, religion, etc., just about every segment had a negative attitude going into it. But I must say, it was the most eye-opening corporate training session I have ever been a part of.
The session began with a little teaser that went something like this:
A father and his son are driving on a country road when a deer crosses in front of them. The deer totals the car and both the father and his son are injured. Two ambulances show up to the scene and take them to separate hospitals.
The son is brought into the operating room and the surgeon stops and says, “Wait a minute. I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son.”
How is that possible?
I’ll save you the suspense – there’s no adoption/stepparent thing going on. The surgeon is a woman; the boy’s mother.
I forget the exact stat, but it’s something like 87% of people are unable to solve the riddle, including more than 70% of women.
It’s not sexism. It’s not discrimination. It’s nothing sinister. It’s simply bias. We all have biases – some are inherent, some are learned, but we all have them. The idea of the session was not to make anyone feel guilty, but just to recognize that we all have them. To prove the point from a different perspective, the speaker did an exercise by posing the following:
Raise your hand when, in a certain situation, your age was an advantage. Every hand went up.
Now raise your hand when, in a certain situation, your age was a disadvantage. Again, every hand went up.
Raise your hand when your gender…
Raise your hand when your skin color…
Raise your hand when your education level…
And so on. Every person’s hand was up for every situation. Sometimes our different identities are an advantage and other times they are a disadvantage. Rarely is it entirely correct, and rarely is it entirely incorrect. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in between and at least partially inaccurate. By framing the session with this type of perspective, just about every single person was disarmed and open-minded, and willing to examine their own situations and actually learn and have a renewed outlook moving forward.
So back to the 2022 International Women’s Day theme of #BreakTheBias. In my industry (software technology), there has historically been a disproportionate lack of women. I’m not here to point fingers or bash the industry at all. Thirty years ago, not very many women embraced STEM classes at high schools and universities, and therefore didn’t seek careers in technology. Now that has changed and the numbers are starting to shift in a positive direction toward a more realistic representation of the general population.
But bias still remains. Looking at a stack of resumes, trying to find suitable candidates for tech jobs, are we still somewhat affected by our perceptions and inherent biases? I believe you should always hire the best candidate for the job, but are the number of women being considered for each job still disproportionately low? I don’t know, but I’m challenging everyone out there to think about it and consider it when you look at the next stack of resumes. Simply giving more women a seat at the table of consideration is a solid first step.
I’m proud that our company has multiple women and other minorities in the C-suite. I’m proud that we have the same at the VP and Director level. My boss is a woman, as is her boss, and her boss’ boss. We can’t blink our eyes and expect an entire industry to magically change overnight. But we can ensure it is always moving in a positive direction. Let’s not make International Women’s Day another one of those days when every company virtue signals on social media and then goes back to business as usual. Let’s continue to #BreakTheBias every day.
Craig Dekshenieks is the Content and Campaigns Manager at Syncron. He believes that being truly open and understanding with other cultures and identities is the key to bridging the gaps that divide us.