Archive | unconscious bias RSS feed for this section

Canadian Dolls…?

15 Dec

Reminder: This blog is moving – sign up here to stay in the loop!

It’s fitting, on the heels of last week’s blog, that I have been introduced to The Maplelea girls – a group of Canadian dolls.


Sometimes conversations about race are difficult. Yes, we are making progress, but there are still issues to raise and improvements to make – and unless we talk about these, they won’t happen. Remember that we walk through the world noticing (and being impacted by) different things, because of who we are.

Maplelea Girls is an example of a company trying to do the right thing, and making some good choices, but still having room for improvement. And I’m going to assume that much of that is likely due to unconscious bias. But that’s why we hire diverse staff and create inclusive environments so they can share their perspectives and help organizations see more.

The Maplelea Girls are a core group of dolls (7) that have names and histories, and each come from a certain region of Canada. Kudos to the company for making one of those core group Inuit (and doing due diligence in making sure she is an accurate reflection of a 10 year old girl growing up in Nunavut), and one brown-skinned. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not far enough. All of the girls have long straight hair (so, long hair = feminine), and 5 of the 7 are white. No First Nations, Black, or Asian representation. Hello, Canada!?

That’s the core group. The in group. So there’s a message right there.

The other dolls are the Maplelea Friends. There are 23 of them. And they don’t have names – just numbers. Once you buy one, you get to name them and write their history, which is nice. But here is the beginning of the unconscious messaging about worth and value.

The Maplelea Friends also bring some diversity to the mix in terms of skin tone and hair texture, as well as eye shape. Which is great. But remember, they are the Friends, not the Girls.

Here are the stats on the Friends;

  • They have different skin tones: light (15), medium-light (4), medium (2), medium-dark (1) and dark(1). I’m very impressed by this range actually.
  • There are different eye shapes (2 “almond-shaped” eyes).
  • Different types of hair: straight (the default) is not defined. 11 of the 17 have straight hair. And then there are curls and textured for the medium-dark and dark skin dolls.
  • Different hair lengths: 6 have shoulder length or short hair, the rest – 17 – have long hair (and all the long haired dolls have straight hair).

I have to say add, that with the exception of the (I’m assuming) Asian representations and the brown and Black representations, all of the light and medium-light skinned dolls have the same face.


I want to believe that the people behind these dolls had the best intentions in mind. I like the fact that they are trying to have some diversity – 5 different skin tones, 4 different hair textures, speak to that intention. It’s nice to have at least some variety for girls to be able to see themselves. But if you look a little closer, you will see the problem within that variety, because if you’re White, you have lots of options to choose from. And if you’re brown, Black, or Asian, the number drops from 15 to 2 for each. And if you’re Indigenous (while it’s great that there is an option) there is only 1.

So while it’s great to have the diversity and variety, I fear that the message still speaks to inequity in terms of who has value racially. And if we go a little further, what feminine looks like (long hair wins).

So Maplelea is onto something. It’s hard to find dolls that are not White. And it’s hard to find non-white dolls with hair that is racially correct. Hooray.

My point? I’m hoping that this is the beginning of their line of dolls, and not the final count. Because there is so much more to being a girl than long hair, and so much more diversity within races and cultures that can be represented in order for little girls to see themselves in the dolls they love – or see each other in the dolls they can choose.

And don’t get me started on why there aren’t any Maplelea Boys!!

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Just a reminder that this blog has moved to it’s permanent home on my website, where you can sign up. At the end of this month, I’ll stop duplicating.



Systemic Racism in many forms…even dolls!

27 Jul
Last week in Calgary, a woman was shopping for dolls for her children at Toys R Us and made a startling discovery – the “dark skinned” doll was priced lower than it’s “lighter skinned” counterpart (those are the words from the CTV new report).toys r us dolls
Image from:

So, that’s a problem.

The woman was horrified and called the manager who told her that they were aware of the issue, and had already taken it to corporate (where pricing is set).

Also a problem.

The price has since been noted as an operational error and corrected – both dolls are priced at $22.99 (the lower price).

I’m going to go with the operational error explanation – but here’s what comes up for me.

Corporate knew about it, and did nothing until someone complained.
How many other people were in that store, looking for dolls, and didn’t say anything? And why is that?
I’m going to argue that it’s because we have a deep bias that dark skin colour lowers value. And not just in toys….

Then, let’s think about this:
If a Black woman had complained, what would this have looked like?
Often when people of colour advocate for themselves around issues of racism, we are seen as:

  • taking things too personally
  • being too sensitive
  • having an agenda
  • and let’s not forget the “angry Black woman” stereotype!

So I would bet that if a Black woman had raised the issue, we at the very least wouldn’t have the same news coverage.

And why do I say if?
Because many people probably picked up that doll and said nothing. And some of those people were likely people of colour. Over time, when you are inundated with messages about your worth (or lack thereof) you begin to believe it. So I use if, because raising the issue would mean that they would expect something to be done – and that’s an expectation that (sadly) I’m not sure is always realistic.

Allies are important. They shine lights on issues of injustice and exclusion in a way that often makes it possible for the mainstream to hear and take notice.

But in that noticing, there is a bigger issue for us to come to terms with – we live in a society where some people are not seen as equal.
Not really.
And that needs to change, no matter whose voice is shouting it from the rooftops.

See more. 

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insights!
Weekly emails to keep diversity and inclusion on your radar.




Bias and Power

13 Nov

There are many things I could write about under this title, but today, I’m going to highlight a decision by a judge in Utah to remove a foster child from a home just because the couple caring for her are lesbians.

This is a perfect example of bias – one person’s perspective, based on how they see the world – and the way that bias, when coupled with power, can impact lives in a negative way.

Luckily the press is on this, and the Governor of Utah is as well. We’ll see what happens next.
But there are many cases like this that occur every day around the world that are not in the spotlight and are not addressed nor resolved.

We all have bias and unconscious bias. It is inherent in our institutions as well. Systemic discrimination is so embedded in the fabric of our societies that we no longer notice it as such; it is simply “the way things are”. Which means that it is crucial that systems are in place to educate employees on, raise awareness about, and help to mitigate bias and unconscious bias (in policies and procedures) especially in institutions that serve the public: education, health care, child welfare, and the judicial system are a few examples.

The press around this case makes me hopeful that the ruling will be overturned, and that the baby can remain with her foster parents (by the way research shows that children in same sex families are not at risk in any way, and in some cases, fare better).

But the bigger issue is that this happened in the first place.  And that it’s not an isolated incident.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Radio Show Host – Creating Families

Kanye who?

16 Jul

It’s easy to jump to conclusions.

Last night when I heard that our mayor John Tory didn’t realize Kanye West wasn’t Canadian the first thought I had was: “It’s because he is Black”.

And then I checked myself.

Because I mixed up Kanye West with K’naan (also Black but born in Somalia and raised in Toronto). Was that also because they are both Black? Admittedly they aren’t getting as much press as, say,  Justin Bieber (which could point to unconscious bias or even racism in the media) but still…

It’s often easy to point fingers and make assumptions about why others do or say things (and note that we don’t make those judgments about ourselves as readily, if at all). It can be easy to assume someone’s words or actions are due to racism or homophobia etc. – because they do exist. But in going there first we may be missing the bigger picture and do others (and ourselves) a disservice.

We don’t all like the same music. And when we don’t listen to a genre of music, chances are we won’t be familiar with the artists. Like I said, I didn’t catch his mistake right away either.

John Tory is admittedly not a fan, and he doesn’t have to be. There could be any number of reasons for this. Here is what he is quoted as saying:

“I won’t say that I spend every single night at home listening to his music, but, you know what, I’m smart enough to know that a lot of people do,” Tory told CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan when asked if he was a Kanye fan. “And I’m smart enough to know that he’s a proud product of our music industry here, as are a number of others.”

Blunder about national identity aside, I think his answer says something about an inclusive mindset. It’s not his “cup of tea”, but he gets that others will love it.

That’s the spirit of inclusion: making room for the ideas and needs of others.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Facilitator, author and speaker on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

What Difference Can a Black Police Chief make in Toronto?

22 Apr

So we have a Black Police Chief in Toronto.
I want to cheer.
But my inner voice is saying “not so fast…”.

Here’s why:
Let’s consider the assumptions I am (and many people likely are likely) making based on skin colour and the expectations that these create.
We might assume that since Mark Saunders is Black, that racial profiling will end, that we will see less and less young Black men targeted, arrested, incarcerated or dead. That’s just one assumption, but I’m going to stop there.

That assumption is based solely on skin colour. It assumes a shared experience, a shared understanding of (and outrage at) the issues inherent in this problem. It assumes the shared perspective that this is discrimination, and that it is systemic.

The problem is that unconscious bias reigns.
It seeps into our systems and informs what we learn and don’t learn, how people are trained, treated and therefore how we see the world (as well as actions and people). The presence and pervasiveness of unconscious bias means that, even though Mark Saunders is Black, even though he was once a Black youth, he may not see racial profiling as such, may not see a problem, may not examine the system, may not fight for change.

Not because he is a bad person you understand, but because he doesn’t see it. 

The challenge is that our assumptions, based on our perspectives, may make his not seeing it unimaginable. We may not understand how this is possible. We may then assume it means he doesn’t care. And then we may be even harder on him that had he been white, because he “should get it”. We may be sorely disappointed.

Unconscious bias affects us all. It even impacts our feelings towards or away from groups that we belong to.
It’s not an excuse for inaction, but it’s a sad reality.

We can hope that in this case, skin colour will mean a shared understanding and a willingness to fight for justice and to create change for the Black communities in Toronto.
But sadly, we can’t expect it.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Writer on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.

Blind Spot – Part 2: Social Mindbugs

1 Oct

Last week I introduced you to social mindbugs. This week, I’m going to make the case a little more, because I know that it’s challenging to take in that what our unconscious mind believes can lead us in a direction/to a behaviour or conclusion that our conscious mind would abhor.

In case you missed last week’s post, Dr. Banaji and Dr. Greenbaum (the authors of Blind Spot) describe mindbugs as “Ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.” Social mindbugs are habits of thought that are about social groups.

The media is one of the powerful ways that mindbugs are created and maintained. How people are presented in the news provides us with some amazing examples of mindbugs. The challenge is that, because they are mindbugs, we don’t necessarily catch them or their problematic nature because they confirm what we believe (at an unconscious level or even at a conscious level).

A powerful example of this is coverage during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
You may remember these photos because they did cause a stir at the time. These are a perfect example of social mindbugs at work. Read the caption and see what jumps out at you before you read on.


Both parties are in the same dire situation, but the Black people are referred to as looters while the white people are referred to as having found provisions.

Social mindbugs lead us to trust some people and not trust others, simply because of the social group they belong to (race, class, ability, education, looks, etc). In this case, that unconscious bias transferred into the language that was chosen by the journalist and the fact that the editorial team didn’t catch it.

They are called unconscious biases for a reason. But they still have tremendous impact.
Take some time in the next few days to consider what biases you may hold.

What social mindbugs are you carrying?

See more.

Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker & Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

%d bloggers like this: