There is an increasing awareness in organisations that unconscious bias impacts decisions relating to men and women and that this is an important area for change, but less is known about what unconscious bias actually is, how it works and what it takes to change it.
Gender and racial bias have gone somewhat underground in recent times, as people have become increasingly aware that it is not socially acceptable to admit to prejudice nor to discriminate. That however doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. It does. What it does mean is that it is increasingly difficult to raise and discuss, and this makes it more insidious.
The recent media attention surrounding Christine Nixon provides an interesting insight into this phenomenon. Here are just a couple of the comments that have been made in the media:
By Claire Harvey in the Sunday Telegraph, quoting Andrew Bolt "She was hired from the NSW force not because she'd succeeded, but because she seemed fresh, honest - and an agent of fashionable feminist change," Bolt wrote. "The reality, though, is that we got a feminised and demoralised force that too often surrenders the streets to mobs." Bolt ended with biblical gravitas worthy of any fine heavy-metal lyricist: "We reap what we sow." http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/christine-nixon-what-...
Or John Ferguson’s story in The Australian, which began “CHRISTINE Nixon's "kangaroo court" criticism of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the furore surrounding her newly published book may have further damaged her prospects of pursuing a career as a director or in senior management.” http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/furore-over-autobi...
And a year ago, her treatment regarding her dinner at a pub on Black Saturday was contrasted by Jane Cowan with the media attention attracted by Russell Rees’ resignation announcement. Rees was actually responsible for the organisation charged with fighting the bush fires whereas Nixon wasn’t. Cowan reported “Against the shame heaped on Victoria's former police chief Christine Nixon … the tenor of Rees' final press conference was almost triumphant. The CFA chairman Kerry Murphy stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the outgoing chief, declaring the fire agency owed him an "enormous debt of gratitude". Senior male media commentators were likewise congratulatory, despite having the prior week attacked Nixon for her actions.” Rees resigned with widespread media agreement that he was a ‘good bloke’. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/28/2884258.htm?site=thedrum
Christine Nixon challenged beliefs about being a leader in a male-dominated domain, as the first woman to become police commissioner implementing widespread cultural change within the force, and through her book, taking on the backlash that she experienced. Her behaviour challenges gender stereotypes, that women should be warm, wonderful and weak, and that it is men who are suited to authority roles.
For more information about unconscious bias, please contact me at email@example.com. At Gender Worx we help organisations learn more about unconscious bias and facilitate training sessions, workshops and dialogues that explore gender issues, particularly the impact of gender bias. Gender Worx Working Paper No. 1 Getting to grips with unconscious bias provides an insight into unconscious bias, what it is, why it matters and how to reduce its impact. Contact me for a copy.
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