Lately, I have been made incredibly aware of the impact that a look can have on the way we perceive others and how we are perceived by other people. We all claim that appearance, gender, and age have no impact on what we think of a person’s abilities, unfortunately, we are subject to more bias than we might like to admit.
One of my favourite roles is that of mentor to some talented young professionals, and appearance keeps coming up in conversation with my mentees.
Can you be considered a professional if you have a visible tattoo?
Would they miss out on a promotion for being too young? female?
What strikes me most is that they aren’t asking if they will miss out by not having a skill or enough experience, it always comes down to the physical attributes they have or do not have.
I recently was at a sports game where a strong, though, small athlete was playing. Comments abounded about how surprised they were at her ability despite her “disadvantage”.
I found myself frustrated that considering the fact that the team was playing incredibly well, anyone could wonder about her ability (or that of any other member of the team) as an athlete. Clearly all of the members of the two teams were talented so why should size be a limit for talent?
Conversely why should an athlete be anything except what they are?
Down the rabbit hole
This is just a simple example of how what we look like might limit us personally or professionally. Why can’t we celebrate our diversity in whatever capacity as what makes us special and appealing?
Even better: why can’t a person be more than one thing?
Though she be but little, she is fierce-William Shakespeare
Recently I discussed the idea of having to prove myself on a regular basis because I am a woman and a technologist. I found myself hoping that with the advent of campaigns like #ILookLikeAnEngineer taking over the internet you would think that bias is changing. Sadly it isn’t going away and won’t until we rush head first into the bias we have inside ourselves.
In her TED talk Verna Myers discusses how we must first acknowledge our “default setting” so that we can change our own mind about what people should be. When we really investigate what we think while we are thinking it we can change our bias.
We can make each person we meet a sum of their talents and knowledge instead of a reflection of what he or she looks like, but we must make an effort to do this. Each time we question these ideas that are hidden in the dark places of our backgrounds we are able to cast light on them with our conscious brains and update those default settings.
“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”-Frank Clark
Surrounding yourself with diverse ideas, things and people, and subsequently becoming a person that is more than one thing is how we grow. It’s time to reset our bias and make the decision that each person can be about so much more than what they look like.