Why #LikeAGirl highlights the dangers of unconscious bias
Why #LikeAGirl highlights the dangers of unconscious bias
A view from Laura Bebbington

Why #LikeAGirl highlights the dangers of unconscious bias

We may like to think we are rational beings, making sound judgements and decisions, but the reality is quite different. We are all prone to...

Our biases have a huge impact on many areas of our lives, from the way we form opinions of people, to how we interpret information and make critical business decisions.  And the media industry has a key role to play on this subject, both in terms of how information is portrayed and a responsibility in fostering a diverse workforce.

#LikeAGirl serves as a powerful, yet poignant reminder of our own gender biases and their presence, even amongst girls themselves

Biases are a product of many things: life experience, background, culture and our brains being hardwired to make quick judgments and associations.

They can be even stronger for emotionally charged issues and where deep seated beliefs exist. And once we start to believe something is true, we tend to seek out further information that simply affirms our views – leading to a strengthening of the original belief. This is called confirmation bias.  

Most of us don’t know our own biases even exist and when confronted with them we tend to feel uncomfortable. 

Industry must not let pre-existing beliefs or assumptions get in the way

This could help explain the success of the recent #LikeAGirl Campaign.  It serves as a powerful, yet poignant reminder of our own gender biases and their presence, even amongst girls themselves. The subject matter may be relatively light-hearted, but the message is clear: over time, society and life experience can shape our views and opinions.

Here media undoubtedly plays a role, in that the way information is portrayed can both create and reinforce stereotypes. Children quickly incorporate what they see into an understanding of societal roles, which then get carried through life and into the workplace.

Training senior staff to acknowledge and recognise bias can vastly improve diversity of graduate

And our biases extend far beyond gender: to race, nationality, sexuality and physical appearance.  The fact is that we all make judgements on people that may not be sound, based on their various characteristics. 

So it’s great that we are celebrating work such as #LikeAGirl. Beyond a creative point of view bias is certainly a hot topic and one that is important when it comes to the wider industry.  As responsible employers we need be conscious of how we make recruitment decisions and evaluate performance, without letting our pre-existing beliefs or assumptions get in the way.

The IPA recently held an event about diversity, including advice on how to manage unconscious bias, to help agencies transform their undergraduate recruitment process.  Evidence presented suggests that training senior staff to acknowledge and recognise bias can vastly improve diversity of graduate intake in terms of women, social mobility qualifying background and black ethnic heritage.  Big brands such as Google and Facebook have also held recent training courses on unconscious bias to help tackle the issue. 

No excuse for apathy

Yes, the fact that biases are in-built does make them difficult to mitigate, but that’s not enough of a reason for apathy on this subject. Even being aware of our biases is a start, and beyond this there are some tips we can take on board to help: 

Be in the moment: Try to leave your pre-existing beliefs and views behind and evaluate information for what it is truly saying.

Broaden your horizons: Purely using information sources that you know will support your point of view will not form a rounded or convincing argument.

Be agile: Search for information that could disprove your point of view and form alternative hypotheses if necessary. Be prepared to be proved wrong. 

Lose your ego: Ask people to actively challenge your point of view and don’t take offence if they disagree with you.

Seek feedback – Getting a point of view from another person, especially on an important decision can help overcome your own bias.