Implicit Bias - Why are we second guessing half the population?

When we talk about gendered bias in FRC, many people come to the ready with “but I tell my girls they can be anything.” Let’s start talking about implicit bias - ways that we are undermining students that we aren’t conscious of.

Today’s reading is this piece about what happens when a guy accidentally signs emails with his coworkers name

TLDR: A man realized women are treated differently in the workplace after he accidentally signed off on emails using his female co-worker’s signature.

A friend shared this in a group chat with “this blew my mind.”

Here are some thoughts:
Anyone can be guilty of this implicit bias and not realize it. The story doesn’t mention the gender of clients - probably because the gender is irrelevant - men and women are both capable of being offenders.

The narrator (a man) assumed the issue was his female coworker’s lack of experience - it was not. Are we excusing our own bias with similar false thinking?

Why don’t we trust women to accurately explain their own experiences until we hear it from a man?*

This experience can extend to other minorities and is affecting our effectiveness as a program to give all students the confidence to pursue STEM careers - should they be interested.

*Many folks who ID as female are not surprised by this article, myself included.

How can we correct ourselves? What strategies can we employ to make better environments for our students?

Do your teams employ any strategies to counter this?

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Also, for those wondering why this is bad:

When we only second guess certain teammates we are telling them that we don’t trust their knowledge because of factors beyond their control. When we second guess our teammates we are not demonstrating our confidence in their knowledge which can lead to them not feeling confident in their knowledge.

You know that one person who always adds disqualifiers when they share an idea, “this is probably a stupid idea but…” or “I think maybe this could work”? When we are doubting their ideas and knowledge, we’re reinforcing their insecurities.

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Three strategies I try to employ on my team:

  1. No negative self-talk allowed.
    Sure, it’s trendy and fun and quirky and cute to be self-deprecating. But that talk has no place in a graciously professional environment, one in which everybody is always making microdecisions that each have dramatic impact.

  2. No negative other-talk allowed.
    We do our best to protect the designers by disassociating the idea from the person. This gives the team ownership, limits the blame response, and helps the creators feel more safe and secure and, hopefully, creative. If a teammate is coming down on a fellow teammate, I try to deflect, to direct others to look from the perspective of the system we’ve created or the training we give rather than the shortcomings of the person “at fault”.

  3. Get out of the way.
    As a property-owning cis white male between the ages of 25-60 and in a position of leadership on the team, at my job, and in the greater robotics community, I understand my voice and my actions tend to carry weight in different ways from my teammates. I try my best to moderate myself so as not to be overbearing, to listen and think before speaking, and to yield the floor as much as possible.

Mostly, I try to set the example I want to see. I’d like to think I’m getting better every day.

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Katie pinged me to share a story I have from work here, that really opened my eyes some to this.

A coworker of mine on a thursday evening learned she may have been near someone with Covid, but she had an event at work that really needed her on site the following day, I was free enough to essentially “play avatar” for her that friday so we did that.

The next day I was just on a call with her wearing headphones, and she was at home watching the livestream of the event, telling me what to do for most everything, what to ask, what to make sure happened, etc, it all went pretty smoothly.

Then at the end of the day she made this comment:

“That was amazing, everything I said was said by a tall white male”

Nothing seemed different about that day to me and how I was responded to, never really questioned, or unnecessarily argued with, so her making that comment definitely opened up the brain a lot for how easy it is to not see these issues that our friends, colleagues and teammates face.
Definite flip of a switch

I’ve since had some good conversations around this topic with teammates in management, and other tech/stem related female friends (^this Katie character included), and have been putting effort into sucking less and catching others if I see it.

Being better at being reactive is one thing (pointing it out when you see it for example), but I’ve been looking for ways to get more proactive on it while also minding that point you made Mike “get out of the way” (Renee is a great person to chat with about this type of thing as well).

Most progress I’ve made so far is awareness based, and getting more input/instances from other female friends in Tech (definitely doesn’t just happen in tech, that’s just what all my bubbles are). Trying to be a better ally by being educated on the instances seems like the best route forward for myself personally.

Looking forward to seeing what other peoples strategies are in this thread

-Aren

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@Taylor’s advice of “Get out of the way” is super important. If your voice is one that’s traditionally easily heard and well respected, your thoughts will be received if you’re the first or the last to speak. Thus, it’s important for you to give those who usually aren’t heard an opportunity to speak.

Furthermore, you need to use your voice to make others heard. Be an advocate for others, and make sure they get their opportunity. Lines like “Hey, so-and-so is really knowledgeable on this topic, let’s hear what they have to say” are confidence building for so-and-so, but also prime the room for their comment and it less susceptible for the typical biased second guessing.

Also, if you’re interested in equity and want to learn more strategies, you should really take a look at FIRST’s ED&I training. Training on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion | FIRST

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Before the me-too thing, I had sometimes asked women co-workers or family members to elaborate if they said something like, “it’s different” (i.e. different being a woman). I would always get eye rolls - nobody wanted to explain it to me, I was just expected to know and understand. I understand it’s different, but how? I wanted details.

How could I understand if I never saw it or experienced it? Certainly I had no interest in digging deeper if nobody was willing to explain it to me. I’m not a mind reader and there are lots of other worldly problems I care about.

The stories that came out because of me-too was the first time I’d heard real honest-to-goodness explanations of the everyday problems in a format that I could digest. Stories by people who’d lived it. Stuff I hadn’t seen but was clearly commonplace. (I’m an introvert so I don’t spend much time around people, unless there’s robots involved.)

So this is good, Katie, I’m not very optimistic about such cultural changes happening very quickly, but I’m certainly listening (err… reading). “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Thank you.

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While I understand for the most part your intent here, I think there should be interest in digging deeper and continuing to ask, even if coworkers didn’t elaborate. Luckily through online media, more voices are heard, as you said. And as more voices are heard, more will hopefully be encouraged to speak up.

On a related note: What are ways the rest of us can help get the other half of the population to tell us about their experiences? How do we make ourselves approachable? At work, how do we ask these things professionally?

I think those are also questions to ask yourself if folks haven’t wanted to elaborate in the past. At the end of the day, at least you can mention you are always available to listen, and try to leave the ball in their court.

I feel fortunate to work for an employer that is very highly regarded as a great place to work for women and other minority groups. We often have open conversations about issues during team huddles and stand ups. Our leadership is also 60% women, which is a big win.

Along those lines, on 177 we have put girls in leadership roles, especially in technical teams, we strive to never express to kids that “the business team is where the girls go” which is a cultural phenomenon present on a lot of teams, and we actively recruit female technical and non technical mentors (in fact, we just recruited a new programming mentor yesterday for 2022!). Speaking with our actions is super important.

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I cannot explain how important this piece of advise is. Giving others the room to shine and feel some sort of comfort is how we shift a culture slowly. It does not happen overnight, but small changes like this give voices to people who never get to have one. When you open up to having more and different voices in the room, there is so much growth that can be had.

This podcast is a great listen for anyone interested: Brené with Aiko Bethea on Inclusivity at Work: The Heart of Hard Conversations | Brené Brown

On more of a personal note:
For a long time in robotics and even in the work place, I was constantly spoken over, told I didn’t know what I was doing, and more. But what hurt even more than all those obvious forms of bias/sexism, was the subtle ones. Random volunteers/mentors assuming I was an awards mentor instead of an engineering mentor, other FIRSTers insisting someone else answer their technical question, the subtle side comments I heard, and so much more.

One moment that sticks out to me the most was during work a couple years ago.
Part of my name in my email was cut off where all that was viewable was “Paul” instead of “Pauline.” And like Katie’s article, I too had not realized how much nicer people were being to me until one day someone started their email to me as “Hey Paul”. I didn’t have to convince anyone I knew what I was talking about, I didn’t have people asking me “are you sure you can use that?” “Have you done this before?” “I think it would be best if insert another new employees’ name did that?”
For once, I felt like someone just believed me without me having to prove something to them. It was insane to me, that 3 letters off my name could change an entire perspective.

All in all, please let people have the chance to share their world, do not automatically assume something just because its the “norm” or something you might have experienced before. I am the first to admit that I have had my fair share of times I’ve assumed something about someone without even knowing them, since then I’ve grown and continuously sought to improve. This community is built on such great diversity and inclusion, I hope we can grow and create a better environment.

If anyone wants to hear more stories and examples so they can also learn, please feel free to message me. Hoping we can all grow together :slight_smile:

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Thanks for your post Katie.

All permanent change is gradual.

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A really quick and easy example of this is super prevalent right now due the number of virtual meetings happening for pretty much everything:

If you find yourself speaking over a coworker, stop. If you have a coworker who constantly does this, or a mentor who constantly does this, address it. Yield the floor to your peers. Apologize for speaking over them. This applies to everyone too, not just when speaking over female colleagues.

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Also responding because Katie pinged me for this, so thanks for the little push to type up these thoughts :slight_smile:

It’s not directly related to biases but a major revelation my team has had is that it’s very easy to fall into a culture of justification, in which team members feel like they have to explain their ideas to prove either themselves or their idea worthy before they can ask for resources that they would require to execute said idea.

We as a team, and I specifically as the head coach/prime enabler, have tried to combat that by training team members to ask for what they need or want without any further explanation of why they need or want it. If they are excited about their idea and want to explain it to me further I’m happy to listen, but I want to be listening to the idea while I am acquiring the thing they need, both because a) that’s way more efficient overall and b) that emphasizes that my approval of their idea is not tied to my willingness to acquire the resources needed to attempt it. I/we also make an effort to be intentional about supporting efforts even when we don’t think they will work because a) we can support people while also thinking they are wrong and b) maybe it’s me that’s wrong and it will work, but we won’t know if we don’t try.

There’s times I can’t provide the unconditional support or resources because it’s also my role to maintain the critical path, so we can’t just be willy nilly throwing resources into ideas in the run up to events, but early build and pretty much all of offseason it’s the wild wild west these days.

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This has been one of my biggest need-for-growth area over the past few years. I’ve had to learn to toe the line properly between “provide clear and unambiguous direction” versus letting others flesh out that direction themselves.

The biggest thing I’ve asked, especially from female colleagues, is to help call me out on when I miss the mark. As much as I’ve tried to eliminate my own blind spots, I know I won’t be able to get them all myself - I need that outside help and push.

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This is a pretty solid idea set - something I’ve seen in action but never seen anyone put words to, thank you!

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I honestly have never seen this as a problem, if someone has an idea we test it. Doesn’t matter who’s idea it is, it only matters if the idea is better than the rest.

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…This is going to roll around in my head for a while…

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Proud of the community for not posting this until message #14. We’ve made progress since last year!

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Do you test all ideas on your team?

If not, how do you decide which ideas are not tested?

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Hopefully it isn’t… but it’s also worth looking closer to make sure it’s not just your perception hiding the problem - something that should be examined for every single team.

I want to share an article by one of my former students (and 2013 Dean’s List Finalist) that is somewhat applicable here:

Her and I had talked about this very topic back then. While some guys are just sexist pigs, most are just oblivious. They stereotype people and don’t realize they’re doing it. When the percentages are so out of wack in a specific group or profession, it can be really hard to break through those stereo types, both for the people doing the stereotyping and the people being stereotyped.

One of the phrases that’s come up repeatedly over the years in my team is that the all-girls environment provides a “safe space to fail”. Remove boys from the equation, and it helps to provide a space that allows girls to step forward, try something, and risk failure - which leads to iteration and ultimately success and learning.

We created our GRIP (Girls in Robotics Improving Performance) outreach program with that in mind. We bring girls from other teams into our shop for a day and set up projects aimed at letting them use tool and gain experience. After that, we run through a presentation and activities designed to boost self-advocacy skills. The intent is to give those girls a safe space to fail, and the experience and tools they need to go back to their team and advocate for their own inclusion and involvement in their desired technical track.

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I assume this in the context of parts or materials for projects or test ideas? (for the middle school FTC I coach, we keep some tools in a “coach’s” toolbox, and for certain things I like to ask why they want it to keep them from doing something dumb or direct them to a much better tool. I like them telling me what they want to do rather than just what tool, unless the tool and its purpose is obvious)

I’ve found that the more we can have materials just available (and know what we have) and have students just do work is nicer and something I’ve been trying to work on (the things I procrastinate on versus act on quickly is rather arbitrary it seems). Our FTC team is in pretty good shape and we’ve tried to make parts accessible and generally not need coach intervention for working on things. FRC team is getting there, but 20 years of stuff in a small space versus a 5-year-old FTC team means changes take more work.

I think my ramble is getting at: the more I can support processes and a framework for working rather than the work itself, the better. And I know I’m far from perfect on this (though is that self-deprecating?).

To get a first hand understanding of what your female coworkers/students are experience, I recommend “feminist fight club.” It’s really easy reading and outlines a lot of different ways we undermine women in professional settings (which easily extend into educations and robotics). If nothing else, I recommend the chapter about how to be a male ally, though I think reading the whole thing has value - especially so men can get clear examples of problematic behaviors that they are likely not noticing in their day to day lives. Disclaimer: there is a lot of stuff I don’t love about the book - it’s not particularly inclusive and it’s “edgy” humor can be borderline crude.

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