Unconscious Bias Privilege

Unconscious Bias and Privilege are things that are easy to claim we don’t have. Hence, unconscious is they key word in calling out things we are likely in denial of. Some time ago, I came up with two city bus metaphors that help us wake up. They seem to resonate with most people.

Unconscious Bias and Privilege exist whether we deny it or not. As leaders and role models, we can help course correct towards creating spaces, or through denial perpetuate these societal obstacles to empowering everyone to have a more balanced opportunity to achieve their potential.

Unconscious Bias - Privilege - Slow, Late or Crowded, Buses are the Jugular of the Bronx
Bronx bus from CityLimits.org -2016.09.07

Unconscious Bias

Imagine you are getting on a city bus and you discover every open seat is next to a passenger that boarded earlier. If the passengers are a diverse mix, how likely is it that you will choose next to someone similar to you?


Now imagine you are sitting on the window seat of a city bus with an empty seat next to you. Again, imagine all the seat are like this with a diverse set of passengers. Now, imagine another passenger similar to you gets on the bus. The same emotional, possibly subconscious thought process occurs as did for you in the scenario above.Are they not slightly inclined to choose a seat next to someone they consider similar to them?

Now consider:

  • Of Fortune 500 CEOs, 98% are male.- Congress is 81% male (90% on the conservative side).
  • The presidential office has always been 100% male.
  • His cabinet: 91% male.
  • the top 100 films worldwide last year were produced by 99% male directors, mostly white.

If any of these people are looking to hire someone, are they too not slightly inclined towards people similar to themselves?

My experience with unconscious bias and privilege

I am …

  • A white Anglo Saxon
  • Born in the U.S.
  • A U.S. citizen
  • Male
  • Born able-bodied, and able to see, hear and vocalize
  • Someone with two my parents with college education

None of these things required any effort on my part, and yet I would argue that each one of these things gives me some advantage in our society  over anyone that is missing even one of these things. All my life I’ve been aware through reminders from my parents and from just observing the realities we live in, that I have what feels like a very unfair advantage over the starting point for most other humans on this planet. Despite my being aware of it and feeling it’s not fair, it still comes to my advantage simply because that’s how our society operates.

I have an additional advantage that I was born a dual citizen and hence can live, work and retire anywhere in the EU

Sidewalk Chicken

Unconscious bias and privilege plays out billions of times throughout crowded sidewalks all around the world. This summer in a crowded pedestrian zone in Barcelona, I had our 13-year-old follow me as I walked into a sea of oncoming pedestrians to demonstrate how I would alter the course of on-comers long before they reached me without ever making eye contact. People course-corrected to avoid a collision. This happened seemingly without consciously noticing they had changed their course due to my trajectory and where my eyes were focused.

Being a sidewalk ninja navigating through throngs of crowds has fascinated me since I was a small child. One interaction after another with often less than a second between them. There may have been a billion such interactions in my life that I walked into consciously to see what I could learn within a split second. When our youngest tried it, it didn’t go so well for her. It seemed adults, especially men were really caught off guard by a girl that wasn’t getting out of their way. This made me appreciate that my saying you just need to be strong and assertive come from an ignorance of overlooking the advantage I have of being a white, able-bodied, male. Sure, there are bigger, younger, stronger white males out there, but I believe my years of practice in this game were also facilitated by my unfair advantage.

See also

Unconscious Bias Privilege on the Sidewalk
Unconscious Bias and Privilege on City Sidewalk Everywhere

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