Learned bias

Several years ago, as part of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, I spent a month in Brazil working for a non-profit that helped keep kids in school. In the airport, on my way home, there was a commercial on the TV monitors intended to entertain passengers waiting to get through international security. The words were in Portuguese but I was able to catch the meaning. 

A Mom and her son were stopped at a traffic light and someone approached the car asking for some sort of help. The son looked over to the mother and when she looked past him, she didn’t see anyone outside the car. The boy looked back and then asked his mother again and she said something to him and when he looked back out the window, no one was there. Then you see the car driving away and, of course, there was the person standing there by the side of the road.

The mother had convinced her son that the person asking for help was not even worth seeing. I don’t know how you legislate against learned bias like this.

As this year has rolled out, we have seen intolerance come out both nationally and locally. Since bias is learned, we need to figure out how to expose and recognize our own inappropriate biases and understand how to address them. Unless this is fixed, it’s like trying to hire your way out of a diversity problem. No one will stay if they don’t feel welcome.

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