Employers, Global Mobility Managers Take Courses on Unconscious Bias

How does one solve unconscious biases? In a recent day-long UX design hackathon hosted by HexHacks in New York, nearly a hundred people attempted to create solutions to solve this most perplexing dilemma. At no other time has this issue reared its ugly head than now, as people have become more vocal about their struggles and frustrations.

Of late, women and the LGBTQ community and other minorities have been more visible targets of unconscious biases, but many foreign talents from China and India, which dominate most major tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco, have also suffered some form of discrimination that are not too obvious: implicit bias against their accents or their foreignness, especially in a volatile political climate. 

Fortunately, Chinese and Indian foreign talents don’t suffer extreme biases when the work they do is concentrated mostly on tech or healthcare, where they’re mostly needed — and not exactly marketing- or communications-related, the mainstream talents’ most favored occupations. There’s less friction that occurs.

Still, it’s better to be on guard, as a recent trial in Canada put accent prejudice on trial as well. Judge Terry Clackson listed in great detail a range of grammatical and phonetic “errors” committed by Nigerian Dr. Barmidele Adeagbo, whose expert opinion as medical examiner was ultimately rejected by the judge.

In deciding that Collet and David Stephan were not guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life in the 2012 death of their son, Ezekiel, Clackson ​​​​​​issued a written decision that Canada’s CBC News reported as being improperly focused on the medical examiner’s accent, and not on the medical evidence. 

Implicit vs explicit bias

Non-native speakers are conscious of accent prejudice against them, even if it’s less explicitly shown. It’s not out of spite but more perception of them being less intelligent and competent and less likely to be found suitable for higher-status jobs. 

Someone with a more “native” command of English are perceived to be more credible, but someone with a thick accent have to accept the fact that the unconscious bias will pigeonhole someone as less knowledgeable. 

It need not be the case. The United States is home to more than 40 million people who were born in another country, many of them highly educated. In Silicon Valley, there is a huge concentration of Chinese and Indians, the second and third most number of recent immigrants in the United States. By race and ethnicity, more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants have arrived in the U.S. in most years since 2010. 

Moreover, Pew Research Center estimates indicate that in 2065, Asians will make up some 38 percent of all immigrants, more than Hispanics, 31 percent; whites, 20 percent; and blacks, 9 percent. America will need to accept the fact that it’s multicultural. 

By 2065, US foreign-born population will have reached 78 million. In 2017, California had the largest immigrant population of any state in 2017, at 10.6 million. 

Now for elephant-in-the-room question, what would be the best way to detect if one has been labeled or faced unconscious bias? The question, “Where are you from?”, is the giveaway. This happens within a split second. Asked in a social setting, the question aroused one’s curiosity; in an office setting, it becomes a credibility issue. 

But to reiterate, many foreign talents know it’s not a problem in northern California. It’s where foreign assignees are generally treated as an equal, regardless of their wealth, power, status, race, gender or accent. 

Many immigrants choose to live here, because they know there’s less bias against them, thanks to employers and global mobility managers who now require their employees to take courses aimed at making them aware of unconscious biases. 

The New York hackathon was a good exercise in trying to find solutions to unconscious biases, but it’s a bigger challenge that one whole day cannot easily solve or banish. But at least, the exercise, which was extended to other cities, helped the participants navigate this most sensitive issue, and brought them to light.