A few years ago Harvard conducted those “implicit bias” tests and used the results to show that even allegedly unbiased people show evidence of unconscious prejudice. I’m not climbing into that cement mixer. But I’ll share 2 quick stories of me catching myself being biased on gender.
- Last year, I spoke to a local coding school that said they would hold an in-person class for my son if I could get 5 kids to join the class so it would make sense for them to staff a teacher. I email blasted some parents I knew to ask if their sons would be interested. After sending the email, I was kinda shaken that I was looking for “sons”. I told Yinh about it and how bad I felt. In her opinion, I wasn’t biased, she just looked at the list of parents I sent it to and thought it made sense but also since we have 2 boys our parents’ group is skewed (the running joke is if we meet girl parents we really like, it’s like “nice hanging out see you in 18 years”). Yinh didn’t think my actions were evidence of bias but I was suspicious of myself and the verdict is irrelevant. That feeling that I acted in a way that does not accord with my beliefs will help me be better next time. Mistake + growth = all we can ask for.
- There’s a project I’m working on in a half-assed way (what else is new?). I was thinking about what it might need if I got more serious. Part of that exercise prompted me to think of who I’d want to be on the board if it became a thing. I wrote a list of names. Then I realized it was all men.
Was this off-the-top-of-my-head list the best list? I opened my CRM.
[Aside: I keep a database in Notion of everyone I meet, including where they live, what they are working on, what type of help they may need, ie investors or collaborators etc. I recommend doing this. Just makes you a better connector. I have also been keeping a list of every restaurant I have ever to for the past 10 years by location. That way if anyone asks me for a rec, I can look at my phone instead of suddenly going blank. I’m pretty sure I was born to be a librarian or serial killer.]
When I scanned the CRM, I found multiple women who would hands-down be better choices than the men on the list. Not only that, one of them actually played a part in the brainstorming of the project. WTF Kris.
I suck. I don’t wanna suck, and I still suck.
So is implicit bias a thing? It is for me. So I put a checkbox field in my CRM table:
Sounds heavy-handed right? Well, you are free to tell me how I can help myself otherwise, but this is the only way I’ve ever known how to change. Make the thing I want to improve more explicit. What gets measured gets managed.
The subtlety of bias makes it hard to address. What cultural nudges have I silently absorbed that undermine the lessons from the strongest bonds in my direct experience? Consider these following personal facts that have always been top of mind for me :
- I grew up with a single mother for much of my childhood.
- I have 1 sibling. A sister who is a brilliant, kind high-achiever.
- My closest older-than-me relatives are all blood aunts. I have profound respect for their beautiful hearts and can-do-immigrant-tenacity. I have uncles too of course, but only a small percentage of them relative to the women hold my love or respect. (I’m not saying this because I want anyone to generalize about the nature of men vs women, but just to describe how my observations of women have been unusually favorable — on the conscious level).
- And then I’m married to a woman who inspires me. My wife is an absolute boss but more importantly, has a trail of people who have been touched by her generosity. But she’d never accept recognition for any of it no matter how much they’d want to shout her. However driven she is in professional or measurable ways, her highest priority is her family and friends.
In other words, for the entirety of my existence, I’ve been surrounded by lionesses.
And still, I fail to give women equal consideration without an extra effort. So either the stories we, both men and a special hell-circle of women, tell about why females getting a lesser deal is justified are ego-protecting rationalizations…or I’m alone in being a sexist?
You all have women in your lives that you love. You all have women in your lives you have tremendous respect for or might consider role models. But that acknowledgment is not a free pass to think you are untouched by bias. Try to catch yourself. Spend some attention on it. And then ask yourself, do you really think unequal outcomes are fully explained by the smart-sounding justifications?
Did fewer girls get interested in coding because I forgot to add them to the carpool? Did the ones who get to hacker camp get discouraged because they were surrounded by farty boys like mine when they arrived? Did the moms not bring their daughters to camp because that idea was less familiar to them since any of the bias that exists today is a fraction of what they faced growing up?
I do believe that over time our awareness of these ideas enlightens us. It just happens over generations. But we shouldn’t take it for granted because it’s not natural to suppress bias. A strained society does not have the energy to suppress bias or prioritize equality. Fear peddlers are opportunists who see people’s pain and sell them scapegoats, not solutions. Because solutions to the complexities that weaken a society are hard to see. Our differences are not. They are the first culprits when our insecurities turn to fear.
The word “woke” is stretched to its excess by our mind’s habit of substituting the extremes for the typical. If you label both basic civil rights activism and a fringe effort to have furries considered a protected class as “woke”, the word is going to break under tension. So when we push for progress (is that word broken too?), remember there are always people who will pretend there’s none that needs to be made (or that we’ve made so much progress that we need to go backwards).
Maybe I’d listen if they stepped up and told me how bias shows up in their own behavior. If they say it doesn’t, I’ll feel bad for being the only one. But I’ll also know those people aren’t credible.
I get that negative screens work both ways. I’ll let you know how many people unsub. I’ve said my piece. These writers made that easier to do. The cost we incur is still nothing compared to the cost the discouraged bear:
- The Uphill Battle Women Still Face in High Finance (12 min read)
by Benn Eifert
- Markets, discrimination, and “lowering the bar” (12 min read)
by Dan Luu
I’ve already wrecked myself today so I’ll comment on this one. Dan uses the term “teenage libertarian”. What a fitting word for the hospital-grade dose of Randian ideology that characterizes so much of Wall Street. I would have described myself as a libertarian at one point but posts like this demonstrate that “market efficiency” is a dangerous expression when used without reference to what conditions must be present for its existence and the degree to which such conditions are unfilled. Libertarianism is as idealized as communism. In their god-given instantiations, both sound beautiful. In reality, one leads to totalitarianism and remains mostly irrelevant as a majority ideal in the US, while the other is insidious because it hasn’t been refuted as the self-serving ideology of those who have been served more than their share (especially if you believe in equality-equity tradeoffs as I do).
This thread by Benn explains further.
Never mind the fact that even in undergrad economics you learn that there is an equality/efficiency tradeoff.
Sure Ken might be a better allocator, but this is hardly an ethical mandate to give him all the capital.
Plus everything else Benn says here https://t.co/EbSaymKDWj
— Kris (@KrisAbdelmessih) August 1, 2022
For the option traders in the room, did anyone else notice the Easter egg in that Dan Luu post? There’s a roll call of thank you’s at the end and one of the people is a Barone-Adesi!]