August 01, 2012

He's Black. What Do You Mean He Can't Dance? Check for Your Biases When Things Get Bumpy

Vernã Myers

From Moving Diversity Forward, Chapter 8

In this article, learn:

  • Why our minds conjure up the image of someone white and male when we hear the words “pilot,” “doctor,” or “executive”
  • Why stereotypes keep us from seeing the person in front of us
  • What implicit bias is and how it may differ from our explicit beliefs
  • How to find more about our own implicit biases
  • How to correct for our implicit biases

As a consultant, I am always on a plane. I can take two bins from the stack, throw them on the conveyor belt, whip off all my outer layers, remove my shoes, dump them in the first bin with my Ziploc bag of essential liquids, snatch my computer from my tote, place it the second bin, and have them along with my suitcase rolling toward that TSA-manned X-ray box in thirty seconds. So, as a seasoned flyer, I was pleasantly shocked one day when just as the plane soared to 30,000 feet, the pilot began to speak over the public address system, and it was the voice of a woman. I was so excited. It’s a female pilot! Pilots are so rarely women, and I was just thrilled to be riding with a woman who had not only broken through the glass ceiling but was reigning in the stratosphere. However, later into the flight, we encountered terrible turbulence, the ride got bumpy, and the plane started bouncing up and down. I thought, “Oh God, I hope she can drive!” I was so worried that it didn’t even occur to me that my thinking was a problem. Not until I was on the return flight and the pilot was male and the plane began to experience turbulence did I notice my gender bias. The pilot is almost always a man, and it is often a bumpy ride. I couldn’t ever remember thinking, “I hope he knows how to work this vehicle.” Yes, I have been afraid for my ultimate safety. I’ve wished I had read the safety card in the back of the seat and watched the video more carefully, but I have never questioned the competence of the pilot through the lens of gender. I have never wondered if he was “qualified.”

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