By Tracy Tsang, Marketing Manager - Internal Communications
On 8 March, it’s International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is break the bias. It got me thinking about my experience of unconscious bias.
Where are you from? Where are you really from?
I get asked these questions a lot, socially and even in workplaces. Or people would tell me that they know someone from Korea or Japan. My answer is - I am from here but my parents are from Hong Kong.
Getting through US immigration is tough. I've travelled to the States a lot from the UK, Ireland, Canada, and Mexico, but I always get stopped at passport / border control. They ask me about my passport because I don’t have a Chinese passport. It’s my ethnicity but not my nationality. Nationality is simply the place of birth, whereas ethnicity reflects a person’s cultural and ancestral identity. One time I said the only other evidence I have is my accent and my friends (who I was travelling with) as witnesses.
One of my favourite comedians is Ronny Chieng. You might have seen him in the 'Crazy Rich Asian' movie. I watched him in the International Student TV series which was loosely based on his experience as a law student in Australia. He has a stand up show on Netflix, where he talks about Asian stereotypes e.g. Asian parents want their kids to become doctors. There are no doctors in my family but my parents wanted me to be a lawyer and my sister to be a pharmacist. I completed my two week work placement in a law firm that specialised in land law, it was so dull, I told my parents that I couldn’t do it for 40 years of my life. I’m not a lawyer and my sister isn’t a pharmacist.
People often associate Asians with good academic grades, especially in Maths and Science. I did okay in Maths and I worked in a bank for 10 years and I managed budgets, but I hated studying Science in school. So perhaps you are thinking well this is a positive stereotype. What about a negative stereotype? One of our friends is from Ghana and her name prevents her from getting shortlisted for interviews. She said some of her friends changed their names but she didn’t want to do that.
Another friend shared with me a social experiment on hiring biases. A man applied for the same job, 30 times, using the same CV but he used different international names on them. African names did not get shortlisted. Here is a report on a similar social experiment https://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/employers-replies-racial-names
Last year on my LinkedIn account I was targeted with an advert saying my profile was a match for a Filipino cleaner. I assumed I was targeted because of my name or my profile photo, yet I am not Filipina and I haven’t worked as a cleaner. It was wrong but I knew it was a computer algorithm, so I contacted LinkedIn but I didn’t get a response. Anyway, I shared it with a mixed group of friends, most of my friends were shocked and a few of my Asian friends found it offensive.
Break the bias
Because of International Women's Day, I started to think about my own unconscious biases. We all have them to some degree. Even though companies provide annual training, we need daily reminders to keep our biases in check.
I listen to and watch a lot of TED Talks. Here are two that might give you some insight into possible unconscious biases and how to overcome them.
Valerie Alexander’s TED Talk on ‘how to outsmart your unconscious bias’ https://youtu.be/GP-cqFLS8Q4 Do take part in her visualisation exercise at the start of the video. It might surprise you!
Verna Myer on ‘how to overcome our biases’ https://youtu.be/uYyvbgINZkQ
If you have any suggestions on how to break the bias, I’d love to hear them.