Now that so many people are working from home under quarantine, holding virtual meetings on the internet has become the norm. One professor at Michigan State University wants people to be careful to avoid ‘unconscious bias’ during such events.

This is an example of how progressive culture finds its way into our lives, no matter what is happening.

Professor Amy Bonomi writes with Caroline Brooks at MSU Today:

There’s an Unconscious Bias in Virtual Meetings. Here’s How You Can Avoid it.

While employees use videoconferencing now more than ever, there’s an issue happening beneath the surface with platforms like Zoom, Teams and Skype beyond stress and mental health that’s affecting its users.

Amy Bonomi, a social science researcher from Michigan State University, and Nelia Viveiros from University of Colorado, said that these platforms are a ripe setting for unconscious bias — or, when people act based on prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so.

“Unconscious bias includes using language, symbolism and nonverbal cues that reinforce normative social identities with respect to gender, race, sexual preference and socioeconomic status,” Bonomi said. “For example, when the virtual background of a Zoom meeting attendee has pictures of his or her wedding, it unintentionally reinforces the idea that marriage is most fitting between opposite sexes.”

In fact, even a simple icebreaker — common for videoconferencing settings —can be a pathway for reinforcing dominant social norms and identities.

Here are some more examples given:

“In a recent videoconference, we were asked the ‘most fun thing you’ve done with your family during quarantine.’ Participant answers ranged from ‘gardening with my husband’ to ‘dance parties with my family,’” Viveiros said.

While these experiences are valid, Viveiros said that they can crowd out the experiences of people with minoritized social identities. For example, asking about “fun family things” prevented several Latinx attendees from sharing their experiences of losing family members to novel coronavirus.

Additionally, microaggressions are also communicated in virtual meetings just as they are in face-to-face meetings, Bonomi said. Microaggressions are brief, commonplace verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights.

The article includes some specific recommendations:

Use inclusive language. Using inclusive language validates participants’ diversity of experiences, including participants whose lives may be unduly affected by the novel coronavirus.

“This can be done by acknowledging that there are a range of diverse experiences of participants and by establishing conversational norms that respect these differences,” Bonomi said.

Challenge microaggressions. Be a strategic ally in calling out microaggressions when they occur. This can be done by naming microaggressions on the spot or addressing them privately. It is important to share how the microaggression affected you and may have affected others and to provide tools for improving skills, they said.

You might assume this type of thinking is limited to academia, but it isn’t.

This article by Michele Parmelee is from Forbes:

Avoiding Bias In The Virtual Workplace

You have an important assignment that must be completed tomorrow and two people on staff who are ideally suited to handle it. Because the office is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both are working from home. One is single and the other has two school-aged children at home.

Who will get the opportunity to shine? If you immediately chose the single person without giving the matter serious consideration, then you may be demonstrating unconscious bias.

We all have unrecognized stereotypes—influenced by our surroundings, our upbringings, and those around us—that lead us to form instinctive judgments about others. Left unchecked, unconscious bias can determine many choices that we make in our everyday work, from the way we allocate tasks to how we manage challenging situations. It can creep into even the most inclusive teams, especially during periods of uncertainty or increased stress like we’re facing now.

Hat tip to Nathan Klein:

Featured image via YouTube.


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