The IE Women’s Week was led with a number of events ranging from informative to interactive sessions. The week started with its fourth annual Women in Leadership Conference, with this year’s theme Leading Forward. The half-day conference brought together an unprecedented number of students, alumni, faculty, and professionals from across the globe to discuss some of the most important issues affecting women in the workplace and in their personal lives.
Alba Herrero, HR Director of SAP Spain and Head of Diversity and Inclusion in EMEA South, shared with us her passion for diversity in the IE Women in Business Conference, held on March 2nd during the International Women´s Week. In 20 minutes, Alba challenged our minds to demonstrate we all have unconscious biases and prejudices.
Breaking a bias requires bravery, unapologetic thinking but most importantly, honesty with oneself. As Alba mentioned, when fear takes control of our interpretation, we misunderstand reality. She questioned us: Who are you more afraid of, a lion or mosquitoes? The majority of us would say lion but, the truth is, mosquitoes are by far more dangerous. If we don’t understand the reasoning behind our fears, solutions cannot be found. The same applies to gender and race. Companies may develop a diversity plan but, if fears are not truly understood and revealed, the change will not happen.
Unconscious biases lead the way to stereotypes. Bias are preferences that inhibit people’s minds from being partial. Categorization of information in the human brain happens on an unconscious level and may lead to biases when positive or negative connotations are assigned based on feelings, relationships, and history. Reflect on this, what connotations are we applying when categorizing through gender and ethnicity? Furthermore, an unconscious bias develops into a prejudice: when conscious thought is supported by fear instead of fact. When confronted, prejudice finds refuge in stereotypes, making unrealistic and often harmful generalizations on specific groups of people.
In Alba’s experience recruiting and promoting people, she is increasingly aware that unconscious preferences and impartial judgments may be influencing decisions. Does this sound familiar? I don’t know the facts but I have the feeling she is not good enough. This is the power of biases. Decisions aren’t based on performance but on nationalities, gender and/or religion. Alba asks us to challenge our inner biases, doubting ourselves more often and thinking beyond our own position and privilege. By truly trying to understand someone else’s position, biases can begin to be exposed.
The reach in which unconscious biases affect the professional and personal growth of women is unmeasurable. In the Spanish language, for instance, we find masculine words that connotate bravery while feminine words connotate fear. Alba stated:
“When somebody is courageous in Spanish we say ¡Que cojones tiene! (balls) But, when something is boring we say ¡Esto es un coñazo! (pussy). The last time I checked, I was pussy and I’m really proud of it”.
This can subconsciously affect children’s perception of reality and make little girls believe they do not belong in certain positions. In technology, when typing CEO on google images, most result pictures are of white men. The algorithms we are basing our decisions on have biases too.
As Alba demonstrated, we all have unconscious biases. The first step towards a solution is awareness; “All of us have biases, as soon as we accept it and materialize our fears we can fight against it…if we have the privilege to know, we have the duty to act”.