Intel Ceo Brian Krzanich said in a conference of Grace Hopper Celebration of women in computing, “We all have unconscious gender bias”.
The important words here are ‘We all…” And this includes leaders of the organizations as well.
An EY paper on Unconscious Bias, ‘Outsmarting Our Brains, overcoming hidden biases to harness diversity’s true potential’ quotes DR Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard University professor of Social Ethics and co-author of Blind Spot : Hidden Biases of Good people, “Leaders with best intentions may be unconsciously stifling diversity in their organizations.”
Human beings by default will have biases. Some biases are explicit and hence it’s easy to overcome and win over them. The tough part is to be able to recognize the implicit biases or the hidden biases which in layperson’s language is known as Unconscious Bias.
Leaders too like any other human being would carry biases. The important fact is that how aware are they of their own biases and hence what actions would they take to overcome these biases.
What can Leaders do to identify their biases?
- Listen to their own voice and be mindful of their communication ( verbal and nonverbal)
- Impromptu feedback from friends, colleagues and their circle of influence
- Ask their coach/ mentor if they have one and discuss it in length
- Take Unconscious Bias/ Blind Spot Identification Test administered by Biz Divas
- Ask more meaningful questions to themselves when forming an opinion about something or someone
What should leaders do once they have identified their biases?
- Create a Behaviour mind map to address their biases
- Act differently and address the biases they carry
- Acknowledge and share their story of self-awareness
When world leader like Gandhi can admit to his follies and we can still celebrate him, I am sure we could extend same admiration and support to our current leaders
Middle Earth is in danger and there is a job to be done.
A sinister, powerful ring to be destroyed. And Gandalf the Grey, in his infinite wisdom, entrusts the perilous job to a young, weak, innocent Hobbit called Frodo.
Because Hobbits, as a race, are known to lack a hunger for power. They’re humble, satisfied beings who want for nothing more than what they have, which meant that the ring would exert less of an influence on their kind.
Gandalf gambled the future of the entire world as he knew it on a cultural stereotype.
And it paid off.
Enough fiction, though. Is there ever a situation, in our real-life, modern workplaces, where doing the same wouldn’t be a reprehensible act?
The Thin Line Between Stereotypes and Sensitivity
One of the world’s most comprehensive studies on how culture affects workplace values, conducted by professor Geert Hofstede, found that:
- Yes, culture does affect the way people function at work.
- No, it is not always a negative stereotype.
The study was done on the employees of IBM between 1967 and 1973, covering over 70 countries. What Hofstede found was that the relative differences in behaviour, based on cultural influence, remained stable over time. Shifts in cultures are usually global, which meant that relative changes took place in several cultures together, keeping the relative scores similar.
When the study was applied to real-world business scenarios, it highlighted the importance of flexible leadership styles. It brought up the need to acknowledge that people from different cultural backgrounds may have different answers to the questions “what makes a good leader?” and “how should teammates relate to each other?”
As a leader, prioritizing diversity and inclusion does not mean being blind to the cultural differences of your workforce.
It means seeing them clearly.
It means being unbiased in your understanding of cultural bias, and adapting global practices to each employee’s local cultural values.
Different Cultures Approach Work Differently
Studies suggest that one way in which the approach differs comes down to whether the culture is monochronic or polychronic. Polychronic people, like Indians, take on more than one task at a time, are emotional and passionate about their work, are more flexible about deadlines and punctuality, and pay a lot of attention to context.
Remember all those jokes about Indian standard time? The fact that Indians are polychronic could be why!
Monochronic cultures, like Germany for example, place a huge amount of importance on promptness, stick to plans strictly, respect privacy, take on only one task at a time, and don’t pay as much attention to context.
Another cultural difference shows up in the way that people express disagreement in the workplace. Individualistic cultures, like in America and the UK, tend to encourage open expression of dissent. Collective cultures, like in Japan and China, view open disagreement as discourteous.
Even nepotism has found a way to survive into the present by taking on a new avatar in Japan. Here, family-run companies needed to find a way to keep the business in the family, even if the next generation showed no signs of interest or capability.
The phenomenon, known as adult adoption, allows the CEOs of family-run companies like Suzuki, Canon, and Toyota to effectively surpass the biological “heir”, by adopting the person that they deem most capable and then passing the company on to them.
It’s interesting that a practice that would cause an uproar in some other developed countries, is widely accepted and unchecked in Japan.
Here’s the thing. Almost everyone stereotypes.
Study after study has proved this. It’s impossible to stop stereotyping, it’s an evolutionary response that we developed for survival. It helps us think fast and make accurate snap decisions in alien or stressful situations.
Every person who stereotypes isn’t a racist or a bigot, because, well, every person who stereotypes is everyone. We do it automatically and effortlessly. Some are ingrained, some are taught to us, some are wrong, and some are accurate.
The only way to ensure that stereotypes don’t negatively affect our decision making is to be as aware of them as possible. To recognize that we do this all the time, and to learn how to think around them.
Because stereotypes walk a razor sharp line.
Take the Indian Army, for example. Why is it that certain races, like Punjabis, Gorkhas, and Rajputs, form such a large chunk of the military force? Is it because they were named Martial Races by the British during colonial times, and the moniker bled into their culture and upbringing through the ensuing years? Or is it that they’re physically stronger, since they come from agricultural or hunting cultures, or from conflicted mountainous regions?
Clearly, history played a role, since the British exclusively began to recruit from these cultures after 1857. So did self-perception and sheer genetics.
The Problem is Biased Exclusion
But this also displays the problem with stereotyping. It’s led to a system where the President’s bodyguards are only chosen from Jats, Rajputs, and Sikhs, in a blatant hangover from the time of the British Martial Races.
Though it is important to understand that stereotyping doesn’t always lead to prejudice, when it does, the consequence is biased exclusion.
Even when a stereotype seems positive, like “Sikhs are extremely well suited for the armed forces” it means the exclusion of races that are consequently considered “less suited”.
Think about this:
If Western cultures are known to be more monochronic, would it be such a far leap of logic to wonder whether a Swiss or German would take a more organized, step-by-step approach to a certain task, or whether an Indian or Brazilian would bring passion and the capacity to multitask to a role?
By the end of his study, professor Hofstede concluded that culture only exists by comparison. Every individual human being is unique. The influence of culture only becomes apparent when you take two different cultures and look at them side by side.
So how exactly should we acknowledge cultural influence, without giving in to prejudice?
How do we make sure that we are aware of all the ways in which we stereotype people, while also making the deliberate decision to reject unfair bias every, single time?
These are hard questions, but they are ones that we need to answer if we, as People Leaders, want to create workplaces that are truly diverse and inclusive.
What do you think of stereotyping? Is it inevitable or does it need to be eradicated? Let me know in the comments below!
The opinions expressed in this article are my own, based on my years of experience in the field of People Management, and not on behalf of Intuit.
- A youngster wearing “ghungroos”, doing the Kathak in gay abandon in pouring rain
- A bike-riding modern young woman declaring that salwar-kameez is her choice of attire
- A Muslim woman lighting “diyas” and celebrating Diwali
- A young man proposing to another man
- Men in established corporate settings pouting unabashedly and taking selfies
- A housewife putting her feet up and relaxing (yes, RELAXING, not worrying about her children, her husband’s health, her in-laws’ diet, or extolling the virtues of “X” detergent or “Y” cooking oil)
- An elderly lady skipping happily
How’s that for smashing the hell out of gender prototypes, homophobia, minority stereotypes, ageism, and just about every norm held precious by a close-minded, regressive, moralistic society? Pretty impressive, right? That’s the television commercial of e-commerce platform e-Bay.
The ad sends heteronormativity packing with its powerful message of acceptance of the so-called “other”, and celebration of different life choices made by ordinary men and women in our midst. The video shows a number of situations where people are seen breaking away from the mould, and doing what comes naturally to them, using products they have purchased from eBay.
Conceptualized by BBDO India, the campaign aims to inspire consumers to stop being judgmental and be more accepting of different lifestyles and life choices, even if they are non-conformist and frowned upon by a society unable to shed its prejudice. The tagline “10 crore things that don’t judge” packs a powerful punch, booting out heterosexism that is so pervasive in our society, even as it sends across the commercial message that you can buy everything under the sun on eBay.
Bending the curve
In the recent past, television ads have gone boldly where daily soaps fear to tread. In the process, they have managed to break the mould and gain acceptance at the same time. It could be argued that the change in advertising is driven by the new realities of society. Or it might be a case of setting trends. Take the case of online fashion wear retailer, Myntra. For its contemporary ethnic wear brand, Anouk, Myntra rolled out a series of three ad films, each touching upon issues revolving around women who make bold choices in their life. The ads, made by O&M, talk about lesbianism, being single and single parenting, while promoting ethnic clothing in a very non-intrusive manner. The most hard-hitting of the lot is the one where a lesbian couple gets ready to meet the parents of one of the partners. The highlight of the ad is the couple not afraid of disclosing their relationship to their parents.
A very bold statement that made people sit up and take notice in a country where homosexuality is illegal, and same-sex couples just holding hands in public can invite the ire of passers-by, and high-handedness from authorities. What made the ad even more in-your-face was the portrayal of a female gay couple, which shocks people in India even more than a male gay couple. But Myntra went ahead nonetheless with its message: “Your choices make you bold, your boldness makes you beautiful. Anouk celebrates the ‘Bold’ you.”
e-Bay and Myntra are not pioneers in portraying gay and lesbian couples in ads — there have been others. Way back in 2010, Pepsi made an ad where Ranbir Kapoor pretended to be the gay lover of his friend’s prospective groom to save her from an unwanted marriage, Hindustan Times had a spot showing a young man chide his friend for making fun of a gay couple in a restaurant, with the text saying “It is time to open our minds”, a Vodafone ad depicted an ad man in a gay relationship dodging the persistent calls of his mother who is beseeching him to get married.
However, the eBay and Myntra ads go the distance, not leaving anything to the imagination. There are no subtle hints – the characters are very forthright about their choices, and, most importantly, completely unapologetic about them. They declare their intention to live their life their way quite uninhibitedly. The spots have triggered social conversations revolving around themes that were considered taboo not too long ago. Hopefully, more will follow.
Other ads that go the distance
In addition to the same-sex theme, of late, there have been other path-breaking ads that have delivered timely, meaningful social messages. A case in point is the “#Like a Girl” campaign started by feminine care brand, Whisper. Universally, the phrase “like a girl” is used to connote negative imagery. It’s supposed to be an insult. “You run like a girl”, “you throw like a girl”, “you fight like a girl” are flung across quite frequently in a pejorative way. The Whisper ad aims at changing the connotations. It shows a young boy being asked what “like a girl” means to him. He makes disdainful comments about girls, but soon realizes that he has insulted his own sister by making scornful comments about girls. The voice-over then has somebody asking young girls what “throw like a girl”, “run like a girl” means to them. They respond by declaring it means doing the best they can, and being as competitive as anybody. The message is clear: “Like a girl” needs to undergo a transformation. It needs to mean being unstoppable, competitive and positive. The initiative got a boost when actress Sonakshi Sinha and Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik joined the movement and announced their association with the “#Like a Girl, and Proud” campaign.
Whisper also started the #Touch the Pickle campaign, in which it encouraged young girls to break the taboos and give the go-by to the fuddy-duddy thinking that women are not supposed to wear whites during their periods, or touch pickle. The ad shows an assortment of elderly ladies cheering on a young girl who touches the pickle jar, wears white and plays badminton during her periods.
Then there is the “Will of Steel” ad of JSW Steel, featuring Commonwealth Games, 2010, gold medal winner, Geeta Phogat. The video has a very conservative, patriarchal setting, with a man in heavily-accented Haryanavi talking about the place of girls, what they should and should not do, how they should and should not behave, and the consequences of women crossing the “Lakshman rekha”, even as Geeta is shown defying each and every diktat and breaking all stereotypes as she goes about her training and wrestling. Geeta’s actions are in sharp contrast to the preachy sermons enunciated by the voice-over. The ad makes a telling statement, declaring that even in rural hinterlands, women have arrived, and will do their own thing.
Even as these ads break the mould, they also ignite the age-old debate: should advertising depict societal reality, or should it go the distance and take upon itself the onerous task of sending positive messaging, setting standards, raising the bar and leading society towards acceptance and political correctness? Whichever way that debate pans out, the fact that these ads have garnered thousands of views on Youtube and continue to be talked about, mostly positively, is refreshing. While it is nobody’s contention that suddenly, society will accept same-sex couples, or send girls to wrestle, or not pass denigrating comments about single mothers, it is heartening that these hitherto forbidden topics are being discussed and shown on prime time television.
Sometimes, a nudge in the right direction works wonders.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to help create a beautiful moment for Sinki- an effervescent and happy go lucky girl and being included in her world. Both my husband and myself had registered as a volunteer for #salwanmarathon where volunteers run with children who are visually challenged for a distance of 3 km. We both were looking forward to run for a cause and help another fellow runner.
As the group of visually challenged girls came towards the start line to pair up with the runner buddies, I looked around to choose my running partner. Just then I overheard a giggle followed by a voice- “I will run very fast”. That was when I went up to Sinki and told her that I would help her run fast if she agreed to make me her running partner.
We got talking and that’s when I learnt that Sinki could run 100 m in 15 sec and I started having doubts whether I was the right match for her Sinki belongs to UP and come back early from the Diwali break so that she could participate in the run. . She clearly was determined to one of the top finishers .
Before the run was flagged off, we had prominent athletes like Olmypians-Shiva Thapa ( Boxer) , Manpreet Kaur ( National Shot Putter) who talked about the importance of sports in everyones’ lives.. Sinki held my hand throughout the talk and I could feel her eagerness to run..
The run was flagged off and we both took off . Sinki was very alert and ran according to my instructions. She ran the first 2 km almost non stop but then became very tired and started walking . With a km to go, I kept pushing her to go on and described the girls ahead of us .Each time we crossed runners ahead of us, she smiled. She was overjoyed when she crossed her running friend – Meenu from school and gave a huge smile.
With 400 m to go, I got the volunteers around to tell us the distance left.. Everyone cheered for Sinki and we charged up to cross the finish line .The officials then told us that Sinki came in 2nd and another girl from her school- National Virjanand Blind Girls School, Vikaspuri got the 1st position.
Sinki was ecstatic with joy and got busy telling all her friends about her podium finish. It was a mere interaction of 90 minutes and though I do know that I was a catalyst in her first ever podium finish but what Sinki has given me is far greater than what I could give her. I learnt my lesson in #inclusion in the real world. We often talk about #inclusion at work and personal life but true inclusion is what Sinki did for me after all she welcomed me with open arms in her world. Perhaps, it’s our eyes which bring up the #unconscious biases as I could see only warmth in Sinki’s eyes and nothing else.
Sinki has promised to get no 1 position next year and I have promised to run with her again next year for no 1 position. Meanwhile, I look forward to our next interaction.
Women carrying passports. Credit: Reuters/Files
On January 25, 2016, Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, shared some very important news with the nation – in a series of tweets, the Twitter-savvy minister made it clear that the process of issuing a passport would become easier, quicker and better. A statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said: “…henceforth normal passport applications of all first time applicants furnishing Aadhaar, Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), Permanent Account Number (PAN) and an affidavit will be processed on post-police verification basis, enabling faster issue of passport, without payment of any additional fees.”
As per the ministry’s order, citizens will be granted a fresh passport under the normal category in a week if their applications are accompanied by three documents — copies of Aadhaar card, electoral photo identity card (EPIC) and PAN card — besides an affidavit in the format of Annexure-I (declaration of citizenship, family details and no criminal record).
Wonderful news, you might say. Yes, but only selectively. Expectedly, the selective part applies to women, with divorced/single/abandoned women facing the worst of it.
Gender discrimination, in spite of government decree
Women applying for passports face many difficulties that men are spared. Discrimination, harassment, unnecessary demands for endless documentation, moralistic sermons, patronization — women face it all. Much of the harassment, trauma and delay is caused by passport officials insisting on documents establishing the identity of the spouse, insistence on getting the husband’s name added to the passport, additional documents in case there is a change in the marital status, even when the name of the husband was never mentioned in the passport, to begin with, and so forth. Women are routinely asked to submit a marriage certificate, or an affidavit proving their marital status, even if they simply want their expired passports renewed. It’s as if the system cannot accept a woman who is not dependent on either her father or her husband.
Legally divorced women, those going through a separation, or those who have been deserted by their spouse literally walk into a nightmare when they step into a passport seva kendra. Even if there is no need for change of name in their passports, they are required to produce original court orders regarding the divorce, referred to as “divorce deed” by passport officials. In spite of the fact that a woman who is now divorced might not have changed her name after getting married, she is still supposed to produce the deed at the time of renewal of her passport. The rules clearly state that self-attestation of divorce documents is an acceptable alternative to a court deed, but passport officials think differently.
As if this was not enough, single/divorced/deserted women face even greater problems when they endeavor to get a passport for their offspring. Resident Passport Offices insist on the name of the biological father, even when the woman is a single parent and the sole guardian of the child. Officials also demand that the consent of the biological father be taken for the passport of the child.
In cases where the woman has remarried, the stepfather is required to legally adopt the child in whose name the passport is sought. Women who seek a passport for their children who might have become majors are left in the lurch, as children cannot be adopted once they become majors.
The problems are many, and the discrimination is blatant and overt, as men are generally not asked for marriage certificates or affidavits when they go for passport renewal after marriage, nor do passport officials pester them for divorce deeds if they go for renewal post a divorce.
Progressive courts, regressive bureaucracy
Most of the issues faced by women are a result of a deep-rooted prejudice against an independent woman in our society. Most passport officers tend to patronize, sermonize and moralize when it comes to women. A deep-rooted patriarchy and male chauvinism come to the fore and women find themselves at the receiving end. Such is the cultural conditioning that the system as a whole is unforgiving of divorce or a separation, believing that “good women do not get divorced”; it cannot even digest a divorce by mutual consent.
As per Annexure “E” of the passport instruction booklet, divorced women applicants are not required to furnish the reasons for divorce. But women are routinely subjected to all manner of probing, unnecessarily moralistic questions in passport offices, thanks to the socio-cultural biases of the officials.
The silver lining is that the courts are aware of the problems, and have, from time to time, stepped in with progressive judgments. For instance, in July 2015, the Kerala High Court passed an order stating that a deserted woman does not need her husband’s consent for getting a child’s passport made.
In May 2016, the Delhi High Court declared that passport authorities cannot insist on the name of the biological father, and the mother’s name is sufficient in case she is a single parent. The court also took note of the fact that nowadays, there are many women who are single parents; they might be unwed mothers, sex workers, surrogate mothers, rape survivors, deserted women, and there might also be children born through IVF. The court, in fact, went one step further, and declared that if passport authorities insist that their computers would not accept application forms without the name of the father being filled up, then they need to modify their software.
However, rules and court orders can do only so much. Unless our public spaces and offices are rid of socio-cultural biases, regressive mindsets, patriarchal and chauvinistic attitudes, nothing much will change.
The furore caused by Tannishtha Chaterjee who walked out of the sets of a popular TV Roast Show recently got me thinking. Now ‘Roast’ is not ‘Chicken Roast’ that we are talking here but, a program where celebrities willingly come to the show to get their legs pulled -literally…. no I mean it ! The entire premise is based on satire – the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people, particularly in the context of their work. So what happens if during the course of using humour we just make fun of a well established prejudice ~ Skin Tone or colour being the major ruse out here.
For starters mainstreaming a particular prejudice is not Humour but downright sign of disrespect. Unfortunately the creators of the TV show and the people who enjoy similar humour are unconsciously blind. “Cross my heart; we never intended that”. Well sure, the issue here is not about the intent but the bias which is prevalent and which everyone needs to own up to. The ‘dark skin- toned’ bias is a quality which is shared by an estimated 80% of the people in country. So satiring it is not humour but, plain bullying.
I am sure there are enough red flags which would have come up by now, saying if we are making fun of a physical attribute where the person herself is ok then it should be okay ! A case in point ~ Comedian Bharti Singh who is physically on the heavier side, and makes fun of herself on national television about her weight. Bharti has a choice to be on the heavier side and she is happy being there, but what about millions of people who do not have that choice ?
Being born with a particular skin tone is not choice but pure genetics. Imagine the plight of an infant once he/she opens up her eyes demanding a fair world of opportunities. But is left to fight continuously home and outside, cause the entire world is obsessed in making you fairer …somehow. There is this full machinery involved from ‘ubtans’ to fairness creams makers who are making a killing in their efforts to making one fairer. Every newspaper has large matrimonial ads shrieking out – ‘Wanted ‘Fair’ bride(or groom’).
Even our folklores sing “Radha tu kyon gori aur main kyon kala”. Prejudices leads to stereotypes and stereotypes lead to Labels. Once something gets labelled to a particular category, it does not amount to choice.
This is reflective of the society that we live in. Satire in its essence is ridiculing and making fun of power. Unfortunately that’s the opposite which seems to be happening here. It is easy to attack a newbie lower down in the power ladder to influence and make fun. But it will be ‘harakari’ to get a dark skin toned established actress or even any of the Khans invited to be roasted on the same shows. It’s plain power dynamics and associated shenanigans.
We live in an equal society where everyone is entitled to his or her view. I thank Tannishtha for the maturity in taking a stand not because she didn’t want to be roasted or she did not have the right attitude for it. It’s because she understands the fine line between humour and reality. We need a mindset change that is free of inequality with a fresh layer of thinking. In this context, roasting is a counter to a toasting, so highlighting a relevant toast in the form of humour will be a welcome change.
Till then I await the real roasting to happen on Indian television.