Tag Archives: blind spot

What gets us into trouble…

11 Feb

On the weekend I was reminded of a great quote by Mark Twain:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Although I would argue that what we don’t know can get us into trouble, the second half is particularly insightful when talking about diversity and inclusion.

Think about it:
What do we think we know for sure about people who are “not like us” that we then use as truth to interpret and judge their behaviour – and to determine our behaviour, decisions and language towards them?

“What we know for sure that just ain’t so” is about unconscious bias.
And the tricky thing about unconscious bias is the unconscious part.
Notice Mark Twain didn’t say it’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so, he said it’s what you KNOW for sure.
Sadly, if we know it for sure, we’re not likely to check to see if we are correct.

What do you “know for sure” about someone in your office, gym, class, neighbourhood, family, household, etc. And how might it be getting you into trouble?

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copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.


Blind Spot – Part 3: Stereotypes

9 Oct

Ah stereotypes…
Have you noticed that the negative ones are usually more about certain people than others? And that those “certain” people are usually not in the dominant group? Think about it. Who are the bad drivers, the late-comers, the lazy ones…the list goes on. Of course there are positive stereotypes too: which group has rhythm, is good in math, has great fashion sense…?

Stereotypes are discussed in Blind Spot, which makes sense since they come from categories which the brain is so good at creating and using. Drs. Banaji and Greenbaum tell us that “stereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories.” And everyone does it.

Back to our lists from the first paragraph: Blind Spot asserts that stereotypes are not equally distributed. This should come as no surprise. The authors state that “if you can be described by the default attributes of your society, you will be subject to less stereotyping.” So what are those default attributes, you ask? Blind Spot has an exercise I’ll rework to be Canadian for you to try: Picture a Canadian lottery winner making a call to collect their win. Who do you see in your mind’s eye? What does that person look like? Probably they are white and male and an adult. And those are the defaults they mention in the book. Which explains why, in a multicultural country, I’m still asked where I’m from because I’m not white.

We should add heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, Christian, and a thin body type to that list of defaults. And there are others of course. Banaji and Greenbaum go on to say that “the default attributes that we add are so taken for granted and so automatic that, without thinking about why we do this, we are usually careful to specify a different set of attributes when the default-ones don’t apply.” That’s why we say things like female doctor or male nurse – for example.

Stereotypes are reinforced by the media when they profile, when they choose certain stories over others, when they don’t report certain stories, and in how a story is told. That constant barrage of perspective gets hard wired into our brain, unconsciously. The saddest thing about stereotypes is, as stated in Blind Spot, that they are also often self-applied by members of the group in question. And in this case, a self-applied stereotype can be self-undermining and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Take a moment to check your use of stereotypes, and consider the impact.

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2014 Copyright Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Women as “testers”?

5 Oct

The Women’s World Cup is being held across Canada next year. Apparently the decision was made to use Astroturf fields instead of grass. The reason? FIFA wanted to “test it out”.
Hmmm…I wonder why they didn’t see fit to test it out THIS year during the World Cup?
It’s a decision (and a defense) that says a lot about gender equality – or rather, inequality.
Who decided that testing it out on the Women’s World Cup was a good idea?
Or a better question, and probably the more appropriate question: why didn’t anyone think about the many reasons why testing Astroturf out on the women’s competition wasn’t a good idea?
Unconscious bias would likely explain the chasm in both respect and awareness. No matter how far we have come, there is still an unconscious belief that women are “less than” – which would explain the choice to “test out” the Astroturf during their World Cup . Which, of course, holds less importance than THE World Cup.

A little awareness can go a long way. If only the folks at FIFA had taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test on gender….

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

Blind Spot – part 1: Social Mindbugs

25 Sep


Welcome to my series about Blind Spots – based on the book by Dr. Banaji and Dr. Greenwald.

This week, I’d like to introduce you to one of their concepts: Mindbugs.

Mindbugs are defined as follows:
“Ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.”

There are several types of mindbugs that are explored in this book, but the one that is of particular importance to work in Diversity & Inclusion are social mindbugs.

Social mindbugs are about how we make decisions about people. They “can give us both false feelings of faith in people we perhaps shouldn’t trust and the opposite – feelings of distrust towards those whom we perhaps should trust” – all because of the social group to which they belong (or to which we think they belong!).

What do the authors mean by social groups? They refer to psychologically and socially meaningful groups of all sorts including age, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation, ability, profession, physical attractiveness, personality (as a few examples). “The groups to which people belong seem to be compelling explanations for who they are and what they do and even what they may potentially do, and thereby serve as justification for our behaviour toward them.”

Take a moment to read that last quote again and really take it in.

And, interestingly, we have social mindbugs about ourselves as well – thanks to the messages we receive in the media, through what is taught and not taught in school, and what we hear/learn from family and friends (among other things).

If our brain is an efficiency machine, and seeks to use information it already has over new information – even without our awareness – then the implications of social mindbugs are enormous and troubling. Social mindbugs can help to explain much about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination, and they provide insight into what creates and maintains systemic discrimination.

Consider tragic events (like the recent shooting of a black youth by police in Missouri, or the shooting of a mentally ill man by police on a streetcar in Toronto a few years ago) in this light and we can see the physical dangers of social mindbugs. They can provide insight into the lack of human rights afforded to some people (yes, even in Canada!). And social mindbugs can also give us insight around choices in recruitment, hiring, promotion, who is given responsibilities, and who is chosen to work on a project or with a specific client. These choices aren’t physically dangerous, but they still have long lasting and far reaching impacts.

Insight doesn’t mean social mindbugs offer a way to condone these behaviours – but they can help us to understand how they could occur and how systems that support them are maintained, and offer us the possibility of change, through awareness and consciousness.

That should be enough food for thought for this week.

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

Blind Spot

25 Aug

I have recently read Blind Spot – Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald and it blew my mind. I have always focused on bias when developing and delivering workshops on diversity and inclusion, because I firmly believe that it’s an important starting point for awareness in order to create meaningful change.

Turns out Banaji & Greenwald have been researching bias for decades! Too bad I didn’t find them sooner.

In any case, I’m so excited by what I have read –  and the implications – I’m going to do a series over the next several weeks to share what I’ve learned.

As an introduction – consider this: 

Our brains are efficiency machines that use known information to make quick decisions so we can get on with other things. This efficiency relies on bias. So we all have bias. And very often we have it without realizing it

Stay tuned for more!blindspot
I hope you’ll join me.


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

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