Unconscious bias and how we can effect change through mentorship

Watching TED Talks is a popular pastime at CN&CO. We visit TED.com regularly to clear our heads, have a laugh or get inspired. TED Talks open our minds, spark new ways of thinking and can lead to some very interesting conversations. Each week we pick a favourite and publish it on a Tuesday, because we like how “TED Talk Tuesday” sounds. This week’s talk was posted by Josie Dougall.

White. Privileged. Two words that define me. Two concepts that I try not to take for granted. I have always, since a little girl, been incredibly in tune with the world around me. I have noticed the biases that exist that give me privilege, and others a lack thereof. All this because of to whom, and where I was born.

I try and make a difference. I think about how I can help people who were not born to white, wealthy parents, succeed in a world full of bias. One of the many reasons I love the work I am involved in with the Bokamoso Education Trust.

This TED talk caught my eye, because despite my consciousness around bias. I still have many inbred biases myself that I need to constantly work on.

When I see a Muslim woman in hijab walk past me in the street, or sit next to me on the train, my own personal bias thinks “shame, what persecution does she face at home”? I think to myself “does she feel hot in that”?  I think “is she abused by the men around her”? I certainly don’t think is she an electrical engineer? Does she do yoga at sunrise? Was she the captain of the hockey team at school? Could she be the head of an advertising agency?

So when I was cruising TED for a talk and I saw this video, with the caption, “what does my headscarf mean to you”. I was interested.

The talk, by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a race car enthusiast and oil tanker engineer, who happens to be a muslim woman,  goes into the details of and the history of unconscious bias. Which is not the same as conscious discrimination. It is not sexist or racist. It is not an accusation. It talks about biases in a way that I haven’t really accepted before.

Her solution is practical, which I love. It gives us an actual tool to take forwards to try and right this global unconscious bias that exists in our society, in our communities, in our businesses, in our governments.

Her tool is mentorship. A concept we all know. However, the advice is to mentor someone on the opposite spectrum to you. Someone completely different to you. Perhaps through this the mentor, shall learn more than the mentee, and by the mentor opening doors and opportunities the mentee will break through a couple of the glass ceilings dictated by the unconscious biases society has placed on them.

I have spent the past two years mentoring a young woman with a very different background to mine. We are a different colour, we are from a different decade, we are from different socio-economic backgrounds, we appreciate different things in life and spend weekends doing very different things.. But we click. I hope she has learned as much from me as I have from her. She is humble where I am outspoken and possibly overconfident. I am trying to get her to be more outspoken and am trying to take some of her gracious elegant ways onboard personally. It is not a formal structured mentorship, but we speak frequently, and I subtly try and do things that force her out of her comfort zone to grow.

If you aren’t mentoring anyone. You should. It’s wonderful. And if you don’t know where to start, please get in touch with us to set up being a mentor for the kids at Bokamoso. It is hugely rewarding. and its free!

Josie@cnandco.com or Neo@cnandco.com

I hope you enjoy the TED talk!

Josie has a brilliant marketing brain, an infectious laugh and a heart of gold. Strong problem-solving skills, diplomacy and getting things done are among her many talents. She is also a brilliant mum to three gorgeous children.