“Lady CFO:” A Case of Unconscious Bias
During the annual meeting for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, the discussion centered on technology-driverless cars, cutting edge developments.
Just a few minutes after the shareholders rejected a proposal for more information about pay equity at Google, a shareholder asked, “My first question is to the lady CFO.” He was referring to Alphabet’s finance chief, Ruth Porat, one of Wall Street’s most powerful and influential executives. He then addressed legal chief David Drummond as Mr. Drummond. A teachable moment! Although a sexist slight, it went unacknowledged, at least on the executive stage.
Jessica Guyun (USA TODAY) reported Danielle Ginach, associate director of Sonen Capital, a firm that focuses on investments with social and environmental impacts, was in disbelief: “Imagine addressing the ‘man CFO.’ What is the relationship between gender and CFO? Google declined to comment.
I remember being at an academic convention with several male colleagues and we were having a discussion when a dean came over and introduced us to his colleague. The introduction went like this: “This is Dr. Jones, Dr. Frentz and Audrey.” Hey, if we are playing Dr., I want to play too! You have to keep your sense of humor. So I stepped forward, smiled, shook his hand and said, “Dr. Nelson, nice to meet you.” Sometimes, you have to teach people how to treat you. You need to take care of the business of unconscious bias.
Bias is not simply another word for racism or sexism. Bias represents an association between things. Everyone forms associations, a process that is simply part of being human. Even animals form such associations (think of Pavlov’s dog). Implicit bias refers to associations that are not fully conscious. We could not survive if all our decisions were completely subject to the conscious mind. Because the mind processes so much information, the brain has evolved to look for short cuts. This is done by habituating many of the brain’s functions, letting the unconscious process large quantities of information through lumping data together in a streamlined, rapid fashion. While the conscious mind is slow and more deliberate, the unconscious is big and very fast.
- Conscious bias (also known as explicit bias)
- Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias)
It is important to note that biases, conscious or unconscious, are not limited to ethnicity and race. Though racial bias and discrimination is well documented, biases may exist toward from any social group. One’s age, gender, gender identity physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight, and many other characteristics are subject to bias.