Befriending Dragons

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Moving Beyond Unconscious Bias – Good People Matter!

Presented at SQL Saturday Oregon on October 24, 2015

by Julie Koesmarno and Cindy Gross

Good People

We’re good people. As good people we don’t want to think we do things that have negative consequences for others. But sometimes our subconscious can fool us. What we intend isn’t always what happens. We think we’re making a totally rational decision based on our conscious values – but subtle, unconscious bias creeps in. Yes, even for good people. For 20+ years folks at Harvard have been using something called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to help us identify our biases.

Take this IAT on gender and career – the results may surprise you: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/tablet.htm

Watch Alan Alda take the test, it will give you a feel for how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RSVz6VEybk

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Patterns and Categories

The human brain works with patterns and categories. It’s how we make it through the day. We are bombarded with 100s of thousands of data points every day – we can’t possibly think through each one every time. We unconsciously assign data points, including our perception of people, into buckets. Those buckets have values and characteristics assigned to them that may or may not reflect the individual person we put in that bucket.

This automatic assignment is called intuitive thinking or system 1 thinking. It’s easy and takes little effort. It serves us well and lets us take on many tasks every day. However, it also sometimes leads us down the path of thinking we’ve chosen the “best” person when we’re really hired someone who meets some set of assumptions.

Sometimes we use slow thinking, or system 2 thinking. It’s rarely a conscious decision, something just makes us take some extra time and we usually don’t even realize it. That’s when we stop to question what we’re doing – maybe we adjust which categories we put someone in or we adjust the category or the values and judgments associated with it. We’re good people but system 2 thinking is tiring and we just can’t do it all the time.

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Diversity Matters

Why does diversity matter at work? Personally, when we’re on a diverse team we tend to have higher personal and job satisfaction. Diverse teams are interesting and we often learn more. People who don’t feel like they’re the “only one” of something (gender, sexual orientation, race, introvert/extravert, etc.) relax, contribute more, and are more productive. And study after study shows that more diverse teams lead to better products and a better bottom line.

Companies with women on their boards have higher ROIs, more diverse companies tend to perform above average, and let’s face it – we don’t have enough STEM graduates to fill needed jobs if we don’t encourage a more diverse group of people to enter the field.

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Mind Tricks

But we’re good people and we don’t make these snap judgments. We are rational and we always know why we made a decision. Or do we?

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Optical illusions fool us all the time. Even knowing those lines are all the same length, did you have to measure them just to be sure? The same thing happens in our interactions with people. What’s the first thing that comes to mind for single parent, introvert, doctor, CEO, or programmer? That first thing hints at your categories – the categories built up by a lifetime of media saturation filled with type-cast actors.

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Back to the science of bias. Let’s think about resumes. In one study, resumes were handed out to academics who were asked to rate the job candidates for competency, hireability, mentoring, and suggested salary. Some resumes were for John and some for Jennifer. Professors of all genders rated Jennifer 25% less competent and less likely to be hired. They rated John worth about $4000 more. When asked why they gave ratings their justifications sounded rational but…. 4 industry publications was awesome for John and 4 was just not enough for Jennifer. They are good people but they (we!) are at the mercy of their subconscious and years of societal conditioning.

Moving On

We’re good people so what do we do?

Take the IATs – there are many, take at least a couple and understand your unexpected biases. Talk about this with others so we all become comfortable talking about our subtle biases. Work to consciously update your mental categories – seek out images and reminders of people who are different and successful. Now that you know your own categories a bit better, be more mindful about switching to system 2 thinking. Reach out to one person and mentor them. Spend time with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Pay attention to the “firsts” (the first autistic character on Sesame Street, the first black President, the first whatever) and see if that helps you update your mental categories.

Increase the pipeline. Participate in groups that help kids learn to code. Recruit beyond your normal network, post jobs on diversity sites, and consider non-traditional backgrounds. Join diverse groups that don’t match your own diversity.

Be careful with words. Is someone bossy or exhibiting leadership? Is someone aggressive or a go-getter? Are they emotional or passionate. You may be surprised how you assign different words for the same behavior in unexpected ways.

When you post a job, only list something as “required” if it truly is. Women for example tend to only apply if they meet almost all the requirements, men tend to apply if they meet a few. Do you really require Java experience or do you need a good coder who is willing to learn new things? Don’t ask for a specific type of leader, look for someone who can lead in any of many productive ways. Explicitly state that you value a diverse team. And beware of subtle stereotypes – words like best, rock star, action-oriented define a particular picture but may not represent what you’re really looking for.

When reviewing resumes, have HR take off names, cities, and years. Before you pick up a resume decide on your priorities – does experience or willingness to learn matter more for example? Look for people who fill gaps rather than trying to replicate people you already have. And remember, system 2 thinking is tiring so do this when you’re alert and can take the time to think about what you’re doing.

For the interviews, have a diverse group participate. Simply looking at picture of or talking about diverse people before starting interviews increases the chance you hire with diversity in mind. Don’t confuse either confidence or “geek cred” with competence. Keep an open mind about different ways of approaching problems – it’s the result that matters.

Many flowers make a beautiful bouquet – @IsisAnchalee

Let’s Do It!

What is your personal pledge today?

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Full slide deck is available at http://smallbitesofbigdata.com/archive/2015/10/26/moving-beyond-unconscious-bias-good-people-matter.aspx


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Where are the Women in Technology? #BoiseWIT

Where are the Women in Technology?

The Event

This year’s Boise Code Camp has an exciting new panel session: “Where are the Women in Technology?” We have a great lineup of women who will help us all understand why women in tech matter to your bottom line. The panel invites everyone of any gender to attend and learn more about how we can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. The session is sponsored by “Girl Develop It! Boise”.RosieInTechWIT

Saturday, March 21 at 140p at the BSU Special Events Center

How does it impact you and your business when women are underrepresented in your tech department? Women are interested, why aren’t they working in IT? Why is the number of women in IT decreasing? What can you personally do about it? Why should you care? We can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. Sponsored by “Girl Develop It – Boise”.

Why Should Idahoans Care?

We frequently hear how Idaho wants to be seen as a top tech destination. We want to attract new startups as well as existing businesses. Women are an untapped resource that can help make that happen. When women join boards and hold decision making positions in businesses, those businesses tend to outperform businesses with fewer women. Having a pipeline of women techies coming out of our local universities and a workforce with a high percentage of techie women can help attract high tech businesses. Tech businesses historically have a big focus on diverse workforces since over the years they’ve seen the benefits of having a multitude of perspectives when developing new products and services. Women are leading adopters of new products and services, it just makes sense to have women adding a female viewpoint to the decision making process IdahoMapas those products and services are chosen and built.

While tech businesses value women, they still see women exiting the field at much higher rates than men. Take game development as an example. Sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are worse in the areas of tech that traditionally are even more overwhelmingly male than most – like video game development. While nearly half of women who play games are women, many games are marketed with ads that emphasize women as sex objects and few games have female avatars to choose from. When female characters or avatars are present in a game they generally have a much more limited range of body types with an emphasis on highly sexualized looks. Again, that is usually attributed to the fact that most of the people who write and market games are men – they never even question what they are doing, it’s just accepted. There is an unproven assumption that women will play “boy games” but men won’t play “girl games”. Female gamers like panelist and IT veteran Jane Miceli are asked “are you really a girl?” when they play well and score high in an online game. When more women are hired into gaming companies/divisions the products change. More non-sexualized female characters appear. Games begin to have more layers to them, more ways of interacting. And then more people buy those games. That’s good for business.

When women are mentored, encouraged, and valued at work they help drive better business decisions.

The Panelists

Our panelists include three women representing a range of IT career stages. Kelsey Suyehira is a BSU senior with a math degree who has returned to school to get a degree in computer science. She is currently president of the Association for Computing Machinery Women’s group, a club that supports the recruitment and retention of women in computer science on campus. Suyehira is joined on the panel by Marianna Budnikova, a professional hacker at the locally owned MetaGeek. In addition to her passion for machine learning and genetic algorithms, which were the basis of her Master’s thesis, Budnikova loves to develop iOS and Android apps. Rounding out the techies on the panel is Jane Miceli. Miceli is a 15 year veteran of the IT industry and a SCRUM Master with a Master’s degree in computer science. She is an avid supporter of tech education and ongoing volunteering on the Idaho Technology Council’s Education Committee, Boise School District’s First Robotics Team 2122, the annual Boise Code Camp conference. Miceli is also managing director for Girls In Tech Boise. All three women show their leadership skills in the Boise chapter of Girl Develop It – a nonprofit that offers affordable technology classes to women through introductory classes such as Python, HTML, and Hadoop. These female tech leaders will talk about their personal experiences with being a woman in tech.

The panel is rounded out by two BSU gender studies lecturers. Carrie Semmelroth lectures on early and special education and gender topics at BSU. Semmelroth spends much of her time on data analysis in her department which gives her an interesting perspective on the intersection of gender and technology. Representative Melissa Wintrow is an educator, trainer, and leadership consultant who lectures on gender studies. Wintrow has been elected to represent District 19 in the Idaho legislature. Semmelroth and Wintrow will bring their perspectives as leaders and educators to help us understand how we can each have a positive impact at work.GirlDevelopItBoise

Panel moderator Cindy Gross is a long time IT veteran with a passion for changing the way businesses do business, whether that’s through adoption of new technologies such as Hadoop or by increasing diversity in the workplace. Gross looks forward to a great hour of discussion on a range of Women in Tech topics that take us from a view of today’s reality to concrete, real-world actions that each of us can take to attract and retain more women in technology. The panel invites live tweeters to use the hashtag #BoiseWIT when discussing the session.

Social Media

Hashtags: #STEM #WIT #PASSWIT #BoiseWIT @GirlDevelopIt #BoiseCodeCamp

References