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Understanding Unintentional Bias

Valerie Purdie-Vaughns Unintentional Bias Talk Examines Behaviors

— June 19, 2014 — Keynote Trends
Valerie Purdie-Vaughns' unintentional bias talk names discrimination and inequity as some of the most important topics of conversation today, because the more we talk about it, the more informed and powerful we will be as leaders.

Despite the fact that we currently know more about discrimination than ever before, our behaviors have yet to catch up with our scientific observations. Most people tend to think of discrimination as overt and intentional; bad deeds being done by bad people. However, you don't necessarily have to be a bad seed to engage in discriminatory behaviors. In actuality, most prejudiced behaviors are "unintentional, unconscious and outside of our awareness." Purdie-Vaughns' strongest example is in the case of reference letters, which reveal a very strong gender bias. Letters for men tend to be longer and use adjectives like "brilliant" to describe the subject. They also tend to focus more on the individual's qualities. In contrast, reference letters for women tend to be shorter, describe them as "team players" and include details about their personal lives. This example shows that biases can be enacted even when you're advocating for someone who, for all intensive purposes, is on your team.

Lastly, Purdie-Vaughns cautions that biases vary by group. While some biases are on the decline (gay/bisexual/lesbian), others are rising in certain industries (older people, overweight people, people who are physically disabled), or at the very least, haven't changed much in the past 15 years.


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