Unconscious bias may seem like an old issue, but it is still an everyday challenge for women and many other groups of people in the corporate world. To ignore it is to risk hindering leadership effectiveness, human resources judgement, team cooperation, and trust among co-workers.
I like to watch old episodes of the cooking programme, Cutthroat Kitchen, hosted by Alton Brown. In this reality show, four chefs compete against each other in a three-round cooking competition. Each chef receives $25,000 at the start of the show, and the host auctions tools and challenges that the chefs can buy to sabotage each other. The contestant left standing at the end keeps whatever money they have not spent in the auctions. I like to watch the show for its displays of creativity, technical skill, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, and resilience.
Having watched over 30 episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen, I’ve noticed that most of the contestants are men. But what has really caught my attention is the fact that most of the time, when a chef chooses another contestant as their strongest competitor, it is nearly always a man picking another man. The women are usually ignored and not sabotaged at the beginning of the show. It is only after a woman starts to show competency and success that the men begin to see her as serious competition.
This dynamic reminds me of certain experiences I have had in the corporate world, in which women need to prove their competency before they can be perceived as such by recruiters. One example is when a client preferred a male consultant over me, even before they had received any information about us or our abilities. Fortunately, my employer did not accept this choice and in the end the client was pleased and surprised (their words) by the excellent result of a project led by a woman. Sadly, most outcomes of unconscious bias are not so positive.
Unconscious bias is unconscious; most people don't know they have it and will deny it if asked. If positive actions to hire and promote women are not taken, nothing will change and the work environment will remain less diverse, less creative, and less agile. Many companies have identified their gender biases and are taking positive actions to hire and promote women. This is a vital effort in bringing gender balance to the corporate world, and one that we need to see more of.
Claudia Piereck da Cunha is an Associate Consultant at Impact US