5 Ways to Fix Our Implicit Biases
What do you see when you think of an Engineer? A man in overalls? How about “Nurse”? Do you see a woman in a white dress with a white hat perched on the top of her head?
You call an engineering company to come fix your Mikano generator and you’re expecting a man, right? Imagine your shock when you see a woman at your doorsteps, a vision of red lipsticks and overalls with a bag slung over her shoulders!
You have to call back to confirm that they had actually sent a woman to fix your gen. How long did she go to school? Was it an engineering school? Can she actually do it so you don’t have to call anybody else? They assure you all is well. But you have to ask her about 10 times: is she sure she can do it? You find yourself filled with the overwhelming need to give extra support and care so she doesn’t encounter any accident while carrying out a job she was professionally trained for.
You don’t really mean to but you call her competence to question and put all her years of experience on trial, not because she has done anything to show incompetence but solely because she is a woman.
This happens in the reverse too. My sister didn’t believe the nurse was actually a nurse, inspite of the fact that he kept telling her for 5 days straight that no, he is not a doctor. This disposition – associating one gender with a particular profession – is what underlies gender bias and its even uglier sister, gender discrimination (both termed gender inequality here) particularly when it comes to dealing with professionals at their workplace.
WHY THE BIAS?
Why do people prefer one gender to the other in certain conditions? Two reasons come to mind – the concepts of ideology and essentialism.
1. Ideology: Ideology is near the centre of almost all efforts to explain gender inequalities. People’s ideals, values and belief system are typically shaped by factors such as religion, culture, socio- political influences. As Africans, we are taught gender roles very strictly, directly and indirectly. They teach us to believe that the more authoritative or assertive roles are masculine and therefore preserved for men; while the subtler and supportive roles are for women. We eventually and inevitably pass these beliefs to our children, who, like us, internalize them and hold them as gospel.
2. Essentialism: Essentialist arguments say that men and women have distinct attributes and that the social differences between men and women are due to those distinctive features. Essentialist arguments suggest that based on the woman’s physical and biological makeup, as distinct from the man’s, some roles are not to be assigned to the woman; men are supposed to do the heavy lifting; sometimes literally.
SO DO WE JUST GIVE UP?
Giving up is definitely not an option; for our sake and for posterity. The way forward is to reinvent ourselves and recreate the world to provide equal opportunities and compensation to people, irrespective of their gender.
How do we go about this?
1. Expose your own implicit bias.
To change the world, we must first change ourselves. I know some people reading this are thinking, “what? me? biased?” Well, you should see for yourself. Harvard’s Implicit Association Test (“IAT”) is now the social-psych standard for capturing implicit bias, and the majority of it’s over five million test-takers have shown signs of bias. You can also take the test. Remember that being biased does not necessarily mean you are bigoted and while IATs express the influence of stereotypes, they’re not proof of prejudice.
IAT’s may not be infallible, but we cannot deny that they show us what our immediate, automatic associations will be before we’ve even had a chance to think it through. And as it often turns out, even educated, socially progressive people almost always show signs of gender bias.
Knowing about your own bias is a critical step in speaking openly about them and preventing them from influencing your decisions. It must always be etched at the back of our minds that achieving gender parity is not just about silencing bigots or swaying the misinformed, it requires that everyone be constantly critical of their own individual inclinations.
2. Fight against every bias you see, including your own.
Guard against the influence of bias in making decisions. Try as best as you can to keep other people in check whenever you see someone victimised by bias. Do not let your business partner employ a man who is less qualified than a woman, for a managerial position simply because s/he “strongly” believes that a man would have the necessary qualities to handle the job. Ask her or him what evidence of it they have and do not take that “gut-feeling” excuse. It’s their biases whispering sweet-nothings to their guts!
3. Foster an anti-bias environment –at work and at home.
When clients seek professional advice or service, women who are qualified for the job should be put forward to handle the task. Where the client insists on a man, they should be convinced that a woman can as well get the job done. No extra warranties should be given unless same are given where such roles are handled by men. Women should not have to be held up to a higher standard than men for no reason other than their gender.
4. Women, be more assertive.
Take up more active roles, break through barriers and excel in fields that were once exclusively reserved for men because if we don’t grab our seat at the table, we may never be invited to join in. Those who have already broken through glass ceilings must create spaces for more women to participate actively in those fields, as these six female researchers did here.
5. Policy makers in Government state must create spaces for gender parity.
They need to recognize that the state is unavoidably central to the ongoing practice of gender inequality, to its persistence and as well to changes in the form and level of gender inequality. By acting differently toward groups with regard to aspects of social realities, a state can create, reinforce, or exacerbate social inequalities. Conversely, government and policy makers can diminish making policies that are inconsistent with social inequalities.
Women in positions of authority in governments need to start taking the front seat in tackling gender inequality and taking active roles in organising reorientation courses for employers, investors and stakeholders in the economy, coupled with proposing bills, policies and regulations aimed at achieving gender parity at all levels
What’s the whole point of this? To remind us that side-lining women holds back economies from growing and prospering; that no economy can operate at its full potential with hurdles for half (and sometimes more) of its population; and that gender parity is not only a fundamental human right but also a critical economic opportunity.
We must all contribute all we can to true growth, commencing the change from our own minds and then helping others around us break these shackles that have held us back for so long.
Written by Simi A.
Simi is a young lady, on a mission to make a reformer out of everyone who comes within a mile radius of her. When she’s not talking about why people should be treated equally, she’s busy enjoying a good banter or anime. She loves to write and is presently addicted to Monster Energy Drink. You can reach her on +234 (0) 810 1603 292