Managing Unnamed Biases
“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.” ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I visited a retail store last week, an irregular experience given my current status as an island dweller.
A young man approached as I entered and asked if he could help me with anything.
Named Rand, he was tall and lanky and I put him somewhere in his twenties. He was personable and patient and answered all my questions.
When I went to pay for my purchase, I made a point of telling the equally friendly man behind the cash register—who I guessed to be mid-forties—how helpful the staff was.
“Are you the manager?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, “I just work here.”
Having once been a retail buyer, and having a client-facing focus, I like to let managers know when their folks have made a difference in my shopping experience; I grabbed one of the business cards on the counter with an intent to e-mail a positive review and stuck it in my pocket.
We finished the transaction and I left, but not before waving to Rand and thanking him again.
And that was the extent of my interaction and my thinking, until two days later when I fished the card from the back pocket of my jeans.
The manager’s card.
And the name on it read, “Rand.”
I realized in that instant a hitherto unconscious bias: age equates to knowledge and positions of perceived authority/leadership.
I had assumed the older gentleman ran the place solely based on his age/appearance.
So, I went back to that store.
I went back to that store and fessed up. And thanked that young man again.
This time, it was for a better reason than simply being nice while he helped me; it was for helping me help myself.
One more blind spot revealed, an insight that will last a lot longer than any retail purchase.
We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it.
But when we do? It’s cause for celebration.
“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.” ~Benjamin Haydon