Unconscious Competency

My company formed a committee with the intention of addressing issues surrounding diversity. More specifically, they are taking a look at a variety of practices and policies to see how inclusive and welcome they are. It started with a survey to gauge our feelings about the company’s practices as they relate to diversity. And today we had a presentation from our CEO and our Director of HR on “unconscious bias”, drawing attention to what we don’t usually think about, considering the consequences of our actions and making ourselves aware of our beliefs.

It was successful in getting me to think about what biases I carry, especially in the workplace. I talk a lot about technology here and it doesn’t really surprise me to look back on my posts and realize that I tend to stereotype based on age – in my bubble, Gen Y is fairly knowledgable, whereas the Baby Boomers aren’t quite as tech-savvy. But the stereotype isn’t necessarily accurate. One of my favorite critics straddles the Boomer/Gen X line and is constantly teaching me about her technology use – and even told me that her Traditionalist mother just got a smartphone to accompany her iPod. And one of my go-to tech guys is a Boomer IT guy who’s kept up with the latest and greatest in technology and can advise me perfectly whenever I need some help.

It’s not the best decision to make an assumption based on a single characteristic you know about someone. It’s easy to say that, but it’s a lot harder to take that to heart and turn it into a practice. I need to make a concerted effort to not immediately cast people aside on the technology front because of their age. It’s a bias I’m now conscious of. The goal here is to move to a state of “unconscious competence” – a state where I see people for who they are, evaluating their technological skill through example and application without even thinking about it, rather than judging their skill level based solely on their age and generation.

Do you have unconscious bias? Think about it. Make yourself aware of it, try and make a concerted effort to change, and eventually, it’ll become second nature.

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2 responses to “Unconscious Competency

  1. Mike,
    Good thoughts, good discovery. As the expression goes: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. It really works the same for our own strengths and weaknesses. You can rely on your strengths to get you through most situation, but those weaknesses can hamper progress. I had an issue a year ago, that I’d been struggling through. For me it boils down pretty simply: Get out of your own way! I wrote about that exp here: http://jklmnowblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/ive-played-golf-for-last-three-years-in.html

    BTW, I’m a Gen X and just like any good exer, I don’t like the label!

  2. @Matt – Thanks for the comment! Yeah you’re absolutely right about that. And the best part about coming to grips with your weaknesses is that you can work them and really turn them into strengths to better yourself if you commit to it. Thanks for passing along your story – it really drives the point home that sometimes you have these unconscious perceptions that need to be brought to the surface so that you can explore them and change your beliefs. Glad we could share the experiences, especially since yours is much deeper than mine 🙂

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