We are all guilty of unconscious bias. We do this in order to organise the people we meet into certain categories and then determine which box they should be organised into. Sometimes we are actually deciding if that person is useful to us and worthy of our time, which doesn’t seem very ethical does it?
Our managers and leaders do the same thing. They have to make judgements and bias – conscious or unconscious plays
There are 3 main things which affect unconscious bias.
- Cultural background
Culture is defined as;
‘the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time’. (Cambridge Dictionary)
Due to my job which involves a lot of international travel, I have spent a lot of time studying cultural background. I find it really interesting and I do believe that understanding cultural differences and the historical context can really help that initial interaction and help you to build strong relationships.
This does however reinforce those unconscious bias thoughts as what happens when you meet someone is to immediately start to assume certain things. Therefore I have more recently tried to actively and consciously ‘un-bias’ by questioning my assumptions about people as much as possible.
Upbringing can make a huge difference to your view on the world. Perhaps you grew up with a mother who believed her place was solely in the home, to raise her children and look after the home.
There of course is nothing wrong with being a stay at home mother, I truly commend it! but the point is that it can affect a person’s perception of women.
If your experiences show you a lack of women in management positions, the perception is that women do not make good managers. After all, women are still not represented on boards of directors as they should be and a much smaller percentage of managers are women than men.
Hopefully in time, unconscious bias against women will change and as more mothers work (upbringing), more managers are women (experiences) and cultures evolve.
So how does understanding this you when you are returning to work?
Unfortunately you may find that some managers you come across when you return to work might assume that you are not as capable as you were before you had your baby. Some may think that you need extra time and extra support, (and this is probably true to an extent – more about a womens network later) but what drives me crazy is when managers assume this is the case and do not give you the same opportunities as others.
It is up to you to decide what you can and cannot, or do not want to take on. You are strong enough and smart enough to decide this for yourself. You will need to more actively seek opportunities and make it known that you are available. However please note! This does NOT mean you should take on anything you are not ready for. Going back to work does require a transition period. Do not feel obligated, you do not need to prove yourself or your value harder than anyone else. You are managing many more things than you were before, but challenge this unconscious bias when YOU are ready.
For me it took about 6 months from going back to work until I wanted new challenges and projects but up until then, I was still learning to adjust.