Unconscious Bias Podcast Transcript

26th March 2015

Here at Marshall ACM, we like to discuss issues surrounding unconscious bias, equality and diversity so we thought it was time we shared these discussions with you.?

This week we have a two part transcript on one of these discussions between Vernal Scott (Principle Consultant) and Jude Martin (Client Relationship Manager).

To listen to the full podcast discussion, please click here.


Part 1

Intro: You’re listening to the first Talking Unconscious Bias podcast from learning provider Marshall ACM.

Principle Consultant Vernal Scott and Client Relationships Manager Australia Jude Martin Atuka, discuss some real life examples of unconscious bias and how recognising our own unconscious bias can help to improve decision making and help create a better workplace.

Vernal: Hey Jude, how are you doing today?

Jude: Very well, very well Vernal, how are you?

Vernal: I’m well; I was talking to some people recently about unconscious bias, believe it or not. It’s really taking off and getting some momentum. Are you having any conversations about it? How do you quickly explain to somebody what it’s about?

Jude: You know what I normally say to someone when they ask about it; I explain to them what Unconscious Bias is. I would normally ask them, are you aware that actually decisions that you make, that you actually think that you’re making, you have already made those decisions subliminally before you actually realise that you’ve made them. And then they go, what do you mean? Give us an example. So the example I normally give them that really sort of gets them thinking is this example: I normally say to them, what does the term 42 long mean to you? So Vernal, what does the term 42 long mean to you?

Vernal: I actually don’t know, it sounds like a measurement.

Jude: Exactly! 42 long Vernal is the measurement in terms of the suit size that you normally wear, so if you go into Next and you want to buy a suit, you will see suits in a varied number of sizes, maybe 40 long, maybe 42 long, depending on how tall you are, how big you are; will actually determine what size suit you actually wear. So I would normally say to them, what does 42 long mean to you? And they normally go, they either don’t know or is it a suit size like you’ve just said and I say yes. 42 long is the measurement of a suit size and actually people that wear 42 long suits tend to be over 6ft tall. Then I say to them, if I said to you that the last President of the United States of America that didn’t wear a 42 long suit was in 1896 and then they go, WOW. So I say to them do you realise that actually the last President that wore a suit in the United States of America that wasn’t 42 long was a guy called William Mckinley. Now William Mckinley in America was called the smallest President. He was the shortest President. All Presidents in the United States Vernal, since 1896 have worn 42 long suits and therefore have been over 6ft tall. The implication of that (and this is where the people I discuss with start to get really interested and start listening here);[is that] of the 300 million people that elect a President of the United States (and there are 300 million people, actually in the 1900s when William Mckinley was President there were about 270 million people that voted and so the increase between 1896 and 2014 is what between 270 million, 300 million the approximation is pretty much the same, as it were). So what I then say to them is, are you trying to tell me that of the 300 million people that go to the polls to vote for the President in the United States, they have made a conscious decision to vote for somebody that wears a 42 long suit?

Vernal: Unlikely!

Jude: All the Presidents in the United States since 1896 have worn 42 long suits. And therefore, have been over 6ft tall. Is that a conscious decision?

Vernal: I mean the outcome says it all really doesn’t it? They’ve gone ahead and elected tall people, basically.

Jude: Exactly!

Vernal: So what do you think is behind that? Do you think therefore, that they’re rationally thinking that shorter people perhaps won’t be as good? I mean what do you think is behind all of that?

Jude: Well I think that there is this subconscious thinking that we’re not aware of and this is the interesting thing about unconscious bias, which is that all human beings are biased and we’re not even aware of it, but there’s this subconscious thinking that actually tall people make for better Presidents. Or tall people in our minds tend to tick the box in what it means to be Presidential.

Vernal: Or to be a leader I suppose?

Jude: Exactly! Statistics that have been carried out in the United States show that 16% of men in the United States are over 6ft. Only 16%, however, 60% of all CEOs in the United States are over 6ft tall. What does that say to you?

Vernal: Oh that’s an incredible statistic. I mean, clearly it reinforces the perception that tall people are leaders, can be leaders, should be leaders.

Jude: So for me, that’s a dilemma of unconscious bias for you and that’s the interest when I mention stuff like this in a pub; people actually take a step back and they think, hang on, have I thinking along those lines too? And they realise they probably have been thinking along those lines and they have not even realised it.

Vernal: So taking that forward then into our business and training people and making them aware, it clearly would be beneficial by the sounds of it for people to be much more aware of themselves and unconscious bias traits.

Jude: Well I think the thing is that biases can be a double edged sword; so on the one hand we discriminate all the time in the decisions that we make. We may decide that we want a glass of wine as opposed to a pint of beer, which is a discriminatory process that we go through without even realising it. Or we go into a restaurant and we’re handed a menu of so many options of food that we can order and we choose one over and against the other, but actually we do that without realising that we’re actually making a decision based on natural biases that we have. But I suppose the interesting thing is that in decisions that we make in the workplace, in recruitment for example, that we actually on the one hand, whilst we may think that we’re making intelligent decisions, those decisions that we think are intelligent are actually decisions that are based on biases that we’re not even aware of, which is so interesting to me and is so interesting to people that I speak with in the pub.

Vernal: So it’s more key then that the whole unconscious bias initiative if you like, relates very much to diversity and equality. What do you think? Is it part of the same family of thinking?

Jude: I don’t know, the thing is like; sometimes people say that unconscious bias is all about diversity and equality and that kind of stuff and yes it may be the case in the sense that the biases that every single individual in this planet has is naturally based on how they’ve been raised, their experiences in life, so if someone for example was born in America as opposed to being born in the UK and as opposed to being born in Africa, those experiences will determine the kind of decisions that you make which inevitably will have some sort of bias underpinning. So the bias is there, but I don’t think that bias is exclusively, a thing that should fall within the topics or areas of diversity and equality. Actually my view is that bias falls within the area of decision making. We all make decisions and I think decisions, more appropriately in the work place is where we really need to make a conscious effort to actually think about how we can actually overcome those unconscious biases that we’re not even aware of.

Vernal: That’s really interesting because I definitely agree with that; so you put it in at higher level if you like, sort of like at a macro level of performing generally in a job would be about either unconscious bias awareness if you like in the processes of how we make decisions generally and specifically to particular tasks like for example, recruitment or promotion etc, you know that we would implement awareness in those processes.

Jude: Absolutely. Let’s think about something that every single person in the world is aware of and that is the global economic crisis and the UK is sort of recovering from that right? But if we focus specifically on the UK in 2010 and we cast our minds back to the Lehman brothers. Post the Lehman brothers collapse, investigations were actually carried out into Lehman brothers practises as well as other companies that obviously had a vast number of stock brokers who made decision in terms of the selling of bonds and the selling of loans to companies and to individuals who obviously didn’t have the money to actually make those payments which eventually led to this big catastrophic collapse of the global economy. What those investigations found was that the people that were making those decisions were mainly men, in fact 90% of those decisions that were made were made by men now you mentioned recruitment, the recruitment process to become a broker the investigations found was heavily biased for male instead of female and psychologists will say to you that actually the way that females makes decisions as opposed to the way that males make decisions is quite different; so there is a thinking that actually if you had more females working as stock brokers and it came to the crux where they had to make a decision in terms of who should I lend this money to or who should I be actually making some sort of financial bargaining with The driver for the male decision making process was a Porsche or the Aston Martin that he would buy and that he would drive to the workplace to show off to say look at what I’ve made, the female on the other hand would have said to herself actually I want to take a step back and make a more rounded judgement in terms of the potential financial impact this would have not just on the person’? that I’m having this financial discussion with, but also long term and investigations show that if you had a female stock broker, a female stock broker would have been a lot more rational in the decision making processes than the male would have been. And so the investigation goes on further to say if in Lehman Brothers and amongst other companies that had a number of stock brokers during that period in 2010 when the financial crisis hit in the UK, if the demographic was more female than male or an equal divide between female and male that potentially the global economic crisis might not just have happened.

Vernal: That’s very interesting, even though I might suggest that if we look at Mrs Thatcher taking it out of the Lehman brothers area, a lot of people have made assumptions about women and women leaders based upon their experience of the only British prime minister and depending on where you sit some people think it was fantastic, it was the best time that Britain ever had and other people remember it as being the worse. You know things like poll tax and other things but she’s also the same person who introduced right to buy and building opportunity for people who in council housing to make progress but my point is that people will stereotype, this is what woman do because Mrs Thatcher did that and I suppose where I’m going with my thinking here is, if we accept that we’re all biased and that biases can operate at Lehman brothers and anywhere else that the betterment or otherwise of the companies in which they work, I suppose if we even look at unconscious bias, we will try our best I suppose to have a clean sheet and a clean fresh experience every time we meet somebody and try not to allow these subliminal processes to play a part. I suppose that’s what we’re saying are we?

Part 2 to follow shortly

You can listen to the full podcast discussion here.

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