Showing posts with label Mahzarin Banaji. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mahzarin Banaji. Show all posts

Monday, July 15, 2013

Professional Bias: The most damning kind of 'Modern Prejudice'?

Thanks to Mahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald, authors of the recently published book "Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People", I now have a term to use when I crib about that intangible, all pervasive, frustrating, subtle but highly damaging prejudice one has to face in the corporate life.

Below is my comment* posted against the transcript of a rather surprisingly** unbiased interview of Banaji by Shankar Vedantam on NPR Code-switch
*one among the 214 highly engrossing comments as on today
**or may be not-so-surprising considering the topic is of 'bias' & avoiding that makes definite sense :-) & also because Shankar himself authored a book that establishes the existence of unconscious biases (The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives)
Let me admit upfront that the comment i made about the book in the penultimate paragraph below is hardly unbiased as 1) I haven't (still) read the book & 2) I was prejudiced by the choice of examples Banaji made.

My comment:

Ouch! that hit a raw nerve…

Considering the many instances I encountered and still experiencing, it’s apparent to me that I unfortunately am on the wrong viz., receiving side of this bias - No wonder, I am not really able to smirk in tacit understanding of this form of subtle prejudice like Banaji & Greenwald can!

I probably faced this first as a kid transitioning from vernacular education to an 'English medium' school wherein I joined this phantom club of under-dog vern-pretenders. Even as I overcame this initial bias over a few precious school years, I have had an extended rendezvous with this intangible discrimination that followed me most places & most worryingly, into my career – an aspect to an extent demonstrated by the number of times I riled against ageism, rankism & even heightism on twitter in the past few years.

Hands-down, the title of the most damning kind of subtle prejudice goes to professional discrimination that manifests itself in multiple forms in multiple contexts right from Existence of highly exclusive informal academic/ alumni groups; Caste (in Indian context), region triggered favoritism to Inherent bias of domain-Gods prejudiced against wannabes that are trying to break-in into their sacred bastion – most of which I am experiencing right now with my own seemingly self-defeating penchant for periodical disruptive re-invention of self by making/ attempting a lateral career move with no pedigree, justification other than my own belief.

If it sounds like I’m demonizing these ‘quaint’ prejudices as if they were a bigger evil than the regular discrimination types like age, color, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc., I have a reason for being so. Unlike these more visible & blatant discrimination wherein the discriminator most times cannot morally or at least legally justify the bias & hence the biased can seek refuge in the regulation & the brotherhood of communities that are similarly affected., the victim, if I may say that, of a subtle prejudice/ bias/ discrimination is without any recourse of fighting this anomaly & hence is perpetually screwed.

No one is above a little-bias in their lives - My own biases & how they impacted the under favored is something which now I’ll keep mulling on, so as to avoid. I however like to believe my fleeting prejudices never trampled on any career aspiration nor on real merit, but aware I am pretty much of any bias I have & when I do, it’s intentional. Given this, I’d argue most of these prejudices aren't unintentional but very consciously employed – while I haven’t read the book, the tone, tenor and the case-studies used by the authors make this book come across as a guide to these subtle perpetrators on “how not to feel guilty while favoring your own kind” – It’s a great service nonetheless by authors to highlight this aspect so very bravely.

The biases may be quaint, but the impact is real and it hurts real bad.