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Unconscious Bias

Is It Bias or Just Preference?

Biases are beyond simple preference, they have the potential to translate into gross inequities and imbalances of power. According to Dr. Pragya Agarwal (Inclusivity Consultant, Behavioural Scientist and Author of “SWAY: Unravelling Unconscious Bias”) states in her article for Forbes.com that “ Developments in neuroscience now demonstrate that many biases are formed throughout life and held at the subconscious level, mainly through societal and parental conditioning.” Dominance paradigms are different depending on the nature of the business, school, neighbourhood, or other spaces we share.

When Minorities are the Majority

For instance, it is safe to assume that the profession of nursing is dominated by women, but the doctors, hospital administration, and ownership would be majority male. Another example is the NFL dominated by African American men. On the player level, there may be social nuances that can make one feel left out if they are not a Black male on the field, however this would largely be non-consequential when that same majority is not reflected in the power structure of the organization. Is that because there has just never been qualified Black men to promote to upper management either from within, or from outside the NFL? Or is there something more at play? People tend to gravitate towards people that they feel are just like them (picture any highschool cafeteria), and that tends to translate into who gets certain opportunities. Sometimes this is deliberate, as can be seen historically where laws and concerted efforts were made to keep certain groups out of power circles.

Toxic Positivity and Bias

However, especially in the last few decades, as hard as it can be to believe, it is not necessarily always the case. Not to say the gatekeepers of opportunity are innocent, but with society making major progressive strides, it can be easier to believe their environments are unbiased. In a country like Canada, with a Human Rights Code, that is largely peaceful, with progressive attitudes and laws about many controversial issues such as gay marriage, marijuana use, socialised medicine, and one of the highest standards of living in the world, it can be quite common to think that if a group is not happy here, they just have a perception problem. We all participate to keep things intact rather than risk instability. This is how bias goes unchecked, and causes inequities. A pattern of this nature happening over generations, results in entire groups struggling trying to catch up, and even worse, internalizing their marginalization and prescribing to its norms. In this instance you have minorities believing they have to earn their place in higher ranks by working twice as hard, or masking how they would normally speak, dress, or act to be seen as “one of the good ones'' to gain opportunities and acceptance. The toll this takes on one’s well-being can scarcely be measured, although the stats are clear.