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

Julia, I do think this was a bit harsh. He never said it wasn’t a problem. He prefaced the entire post by saying he could only speak for his team.

Bringing up possible issues with their operations is totally fine, but let’s make sure we don’t misrepresent what someone said.

I think (hope!) everyone here agrees that this is an important topic, and I think part of that means making sure we can keep the space respectful and everyone listen to everyone to promote discourse that can actually result in some progress regarding this issue. If we just attack anyone who posts their perspective here if we think there are flaws, all that will do is push those people away, when they are some of the people we want listening and engaging in this conversation the most. Echo chambers are a lot less useful and effective at promoting change then having positive engagement with people who have diverse perspectives about the topic at hand.

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Sorry but I agree with Nick here. That particular post did not say that it isn’t a problem. The poster (to me) was stating that the way they try to keep balanced leadership is by emphasizing the importance of the roles.

They may do other things to encourage female involvement, I won’t try to infer further. But if their leadership is reportedly pretty equal then that does show positive signs.

Edit - Lately I’m just trying to see the best in people, instead of instantly assuming the worst. I can understand how the post may be interpreted a bit more negatively, but I just don’t see it written with that intention.

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If we’re sharing our opinions on how a woman reacted to yet another voice chiming in to share how they’ve solved the problems caused by implicit bias by apparently doing nothing at all, add mine to the tally that says her reaction wasn’t at all harsh. It was, in my estimation, about as calm and collected as someone could be while, once again, pointing out that “the best person that season gets the role,” isn’t an effective strategy.

I’m a woman, a senior engineer in my day-to-day career, a long-time mentor for a team that’s been run by an AAPI woman for over a decade that has an incredibly diverse student population, markedly higher than average participation by women at all levels in the student body and among mentors and I still don’t feel like we’ve done a good job at intentionally identifying and addressing implicit bias in our organization. I want more than anything to be able to say that having all of those things in place makes us better at handling it – but I’m frankly not sure it does. I get why it’s a little bit frustrating to see folks who haven’t put in the work parade through again and again to tell us how it’s not a problem for them.

My $0.02.

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While the ending paragraph might’ve been a little rough given the OP’s request, I hope that doesn’t detract from the (quoted) feedback provided. I think it addresses some important shortcomings of what is probably a common yet highly imperfect approach to role selection.

I do wish the original reply had made some motion toward the need for reducing implicit bias, as it does get frustrating to see that omitted (or even assumed accomplished) repeatedly throughout my life.

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The thread title starts with implicit bias…

I agree completely with @TheTigersComeAtNight

841’s internal strategy is similar to Boltmans - we do our best, build relationships with all our students, and get a mix of genders in leadership - but I’m not holding us up as setting some kind of example of process that Katie originally asked for.

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For me, the question posed in the thread topic expands to why I second guessing my own experiences, and thereby, question my credibility to even comment on this post.

In theory, I have all the boxes checked off to provide valuable insight:

FRC Alumna? Check.
FRC Mentor? Check.
Woman studying mechanical engineering? Check.
Mentor at a girls & allies STEMathon? Check.

And yet, I’m actually pretty stressed about putting my two cents out there and as mentioned before, it’s because it makes me feel vulnerable. And my friends, family, and therapist can all tell you that I absolutely hate feeling vulnerable. Because I’m not confident in my own abilities, the step of putting myself out there is scary and the fact that I have no control over whatever feedback I get is scary.

And where does that come from? Past experiences of being told I am over-reacting, making something up, etc.

From Grade 1-10, I went to an all girls school. Beyond messages that said “girls can do anything” on posters on the walls, for the longest time I was completely clueless that STEM was a ‘mans world’. I went to my first FRC competition and instantly noticed that my experience was not everyone’s experience. My team didn’t build a great robot, but my experience as a human player gave me the opportunity to interact with other teams where I think I saw implicit bias in that our ideas were instantly dismissed for strategic planning. Was that because of my team’s past reputation? Perhaps. But would it have been better if the drive team didn’t have to be taught that we needed to be strong in our opinion because we might get dismissed (more so than deserved) due to implicit bias.

Then I moved schools, and went to a co-ed school. Ignore the fact I had no idea how to be friends with men, but it was instantly obvious when in my grade 11 physics class of 22 people, there were three girls. Luckily I’d developed my confidence over the last 10 years and wasn’t dissuaded by that fact to speak up, but I still noticed.

When I became a strategy mentor for my team, I’ve been thrown back into interacting with teams. And I’m happy to say within our district, I have had very few bad experiences, and I’m hoping that both a few years of societal growth have contributed to that! It also helps that my team is somewhat well-known within our district for having a strong strategy background and I believe that helps mask the implicit bias that might or might not occur. I say that because the main problems occur when we go to championships, where we aren’t known. In the last three years, there have been several instances when I’ve had to call in our drive coach (who is a white man) to interact with a team because I am not making any headway or am being dismissed (or even better, being told I’m stupid to my face). He then uses the exact same words to convey what I am trying to say, and it’s suddenly the best idea ever. And that is indescribably frustrating.

The point of that story is to say the following:

Even if you think your internal team dynamics are somehow free of implicit bias, you also need to check how your members are interacting with other teams.

Once your team members get to know each other, the first-glance initial implicit bias can fade away, which is great. But you need to address the fact that if it’s faded away, it still exists.

These are just my stories from FRC, but something that I think is important to note is that by getting students together at a young age, they can become better, faster. I’m currently in my final semester of my mechanical engineering undergrad, and most recently I had a guy in my group project who thought he needed to teach me how springs work in an extremely condescending manner (something we learn in first year, at the latest). I hope that if he had done FRC as a student, maybe someone like a mentor could’ve told him that the way he was speaking was detrimental to the conversation.

So what can we do to improve how our teams work within themselves, and with others?

  1. Connect your mentors with your students on a one-to-one model.
    Have the student-mentor pairing check in regularly, where the student sees the mentor as more than just a technical or awards or business mentor, but an experience mentor. You want that mentor focused on how they can make that student’s experience better. If your team is large in size and you absolutely need to, pair an older student with the younger students, but ideally you want someone post-high school in the mentorship position. This way, the student has someone to go to when they have an idea they don’t feel comfortable with saying out loud, and the mentor can advocate for them until they feel able to do it for themselves.

  2. Give the best person for the job, the job, BUT…
    The person who looks best for the job, is possibly not the best person for the job. The definition of best can have experience as a factor to it, but as mentors, we have a duty to know who isn’t showing their true potential and who is the true ‘best’ for the job. This means you may be pushing students outside their comfort zone. That is a good thing - otherwise, how can growth happen?

  3. Call each other out.
    If you see something, say something. You don’t have to have to be super rude about it, but it means more than you know to an onlooker and is important because it helps identify what is and is not okay. Just like how if your friends make a joke laced with casual sexism or use the wrong pronouns for someone, change doesn’t happen if we don’t talk about it. Call them out.

  4. Just do your best.
    Everyone makes mistakes. If you do mess up and recognize it, that’s the right direction to be moving in. Don’t make it the burden of whoever you’re apologizing to, to make you feel better about it. Getting called out for making a mistake will be uncomfortable for you, but again, that’s how change is made. Think critically about it, and grow.

  5. If you don’t have a minority represented in your mentorship, try to find one.
    Role models mean more than you know. If you have an (insert minority group) represented in your student body, do your best to find a mentor from said minority group to give that student someone who looks like them in a leadership role. It helps with our own implicit biases of ourselves.

  6. Know that you don’t, and can’t, know everything.
    This includes knowing what your own biases are. You can’t know your team is free of bias. You can’t know you are free of bias. But what you can know, is that there might be biases that you have somewhere, even if you have the best of intentions. Definitely try and take a critical look on your behaviours, but again, implicit biases are sneaky things that we have to catch when they come out of the shadows.

Again, this is a continuous journey for everyone. As long as we are all doing our best, there’s not much more we can do.

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Preach!

A meritocracy doesn’t work if we aren’t correctly assessing skills - what steps does your team take to ensure that your assessments are correct and fair? Do you have a formal process for deciding these things? It is based on “gut feel”?

A common sentiment among minorities is that they have to be 2x as good to be seen as equal - how are making sure that we aren’t perpetuating that?

Unfortunately, I don’t think those of us in power* can rely on passive “I’ll be good” - I can think of times where I made the exact faux pas that I brought up in the original post.

*mentors, leaders, white folk, men

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I understand the sentiment of this, but I think it’s in pretty bad taste when a member of an affected group gets told that they need to be “less harsh” or “nicer” when critiquing the status quo on something that affects them or people like them, especially in a medium designated to discuss this issue. It is problematic because it can be reductive of their lived experience relating to the topic at hand and, in this specific instance, can drive people who aren’t usually sharing these experiences away from posting in this thread/forum.

It’s not my place here to talk, this thread has been incredibly useful and I hope to use some strategies laid out here in the future. Thanks everyone for discussing their experiences.

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To calrify, this sums it up well too. Julia’s first two paragraphs make a lot of great points about how some of those tactics have flaws or don’t do enough.

Some of the value from Boltman’s post I think, is that for someone from a team reading his post who hasn’t thought about this at all, the things his team does are great first steps to take (and not just for this thread’s reason but for numerous others), and can definitely be built on with some of the things that have been pointed out later in this thread.

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To address “the best person gets the role”-
Nearly all of the skills needed for a student role in FRC are learned during that role, not before. Our drive team is chosen, then they develop driving skills. Subteam and team captains are chosen, then they get better at public speaking, leading discussions, and collaborative design. Choose the position based on who will gain the most from that position, and it will inspire other, new students to put themselves out there without being afraid or thinking “I’m not good enough”

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I think this is a really interesting notion, and probably deserving of its own thread.

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I agree there’s evidence that “the best person gets the role” is clearly problematic, and this thread is all about that. We shouldn’t judge a person for thinking that - it’s the default and obvious view, like thinking the world is flat when you look out your window.

This thread is displaying some serious toxicity, and I’ll be specific in describing it: the thread looks interesting and lures in people like myself who are interested and want to know more. When we speak up and inadvertently identify ourselves as someone who doesn’t know everything that some self-appointed experts on the topic have decided every good person should be born knowing, we get attacked and publicly shamed to be made an example of. That’s exactly how a cult works, and it’s creepy.

Please, this topic is important and it can be discussed in a way that shows gracious professionalism.

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I would like to offer another thought: unless you are part of the group being hurt by implicit bias you cannot accurately judge if your organization is dealing with implicit bias effectively.

It is exceedingly difficult to understand how another person moves through life. Even a description is no replacement for walking a mile in someone’s shoes. That’s why the article/twitter thread in the OP is so important. E.g. its one thing to be told “this really sucks” and a totally different thing to experience that suckage all day.

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Being aware of these implicit biases is a great first step. Unfortunately, they are especially hard to remove from your thinking because (as defined) they are implicit. Brains are wired to take shortcuts to make processing of information more efficient in many cases, which is where many of these biases originate, not out of malice or even ignorance. What this means is we need to take specific steps to disconnect these shortcuts to get a close as we can to unbiased data.

Our team leadership was accused of a perceived bias in the driver selection process several years ago. Having been a part of these conversations, I do not believe that bias played a part, however if the perception of bias exists, it is still problematic. We’ve made the changes to our drive selection to reduce (to the best of ability to do so) this perception. Many of these examples can be applied to broader concepts in the team structure, but these were specific pieces we implemented around the drive tryout process.

  1. Driver tryout times are now specifically defined, rather than just when we could fit them in. The previous methods unfairly biased the process toward members who attended nearly every meeting, as the tryouts were likely to occur at any time. By scheduling the tryouts, it allowed students who were particularly interested in driving to show up on the day when they may not have typically been there.

  2. Improving transparency of the process. Having discussed the process with students, it was clear that the feeling was “favorite” students were typically selected as drivers. Much of this was due to a lack of transparency with the process of selecting our drive team. Simply discussing the full process that would take place with the team eased these concerns greatly.

  3. “Blind” Tryouts. Drivers and operators were given a set course to run. Each potential drive and operator was anonymized using a number and placed together in random pairings. The members who were judging the drive teams were placed behind a barrier so the couldn’t see who was driving, but could only see the robot. They took notes on the drivers based on the numbers who were driving and selected our final drive team and backup team based on these tryouts. This resulted in an unexpected pairing for drivers in 2020 that I do not believe would have been selected without this process in place.

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I know not all teams have the resources to do this, but I think it is best to give people a chance to learn those skills before they need to use them in a role. We try to give everyone a chance to drive before there are any “official” tryouts. We try to give students opportunities to practice their public speaking, or leadership skills, or whatever skill it may be before they are required to use that skill in an appointed position.

I understand that this isn’t a fool proof way to give everyone fair opportunities but I think it helps with the “who is best for the role” issue.

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You’re right. The first time we tell someone the world isn’t flat, we should be really welcoming about it because their whole worldview just changed.

However, 84 posts deep into telling someone the world isn’t flat, can you understand why we would be somewhat frustrated?

The “self-appointed experts” in many of these posts are experts, because they have experienced the biases. So yes, they do have credibility. Also saying that every good person should be born knowing would be wrong. I agree.

But that’s not what is being said:

Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes I will be wrong, sometimes your friends and family and your team will be wrong. And getting called out for being wrong is uncomfortable. However, this goes back to my earlier point:

And finally, re: this comment:

Don’t call us a cult because if it’s a joke, it’s not funny. And if you mean it seriously, I find it incredibly insulting that a group of minorities (women, POC, LGBTQ+ folks, everyone who’s ever felt marginalized) trying to share their experiences looks like a cult to you.

It’s people who are rightfully upset.

I’m not saying people can’t go too far because that is definitely true, but nothing here is remotely close to what I would say is “cult”-level.

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I really recommend that people take these tests. They’re quite illuminating and often surprising.

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None of the “sharing experiences” posts looks like a cult.

This is really cool!

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I really recommend that people take these tests. They’re quite illuminating and often surprising.

At least in regards to the Male/Female Science/Liberal arts test, it also seems quite flawed, as it spends two rounds training you to associate Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts, before flipping them. It seems logical that people would get lower scores on the latter.

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