Dr. Lehman taught Government during my junior year of high school, and it was one of my favorite classes. Dr. Lehman was sarcastic, smart and funny, and looked like he was plucked out of an episode of ‘Madmen’ – tortoise frame glasses, wool jackets with the elbow patches, and an ancient accordion shaped briefcase.
We were talking about unconscious bias, and the Presidency this day. Yes, our constitution outlines that any native born American citizen over the age of 18 can be President, but what was the truth? This was 1991.
With me standing up in class, Dr. Lehman asks, “What are her chances of becoming President – Masa is minority and female?” And then a guy in the front of class shouts, “And if she was a lesbian, it would be even less likely!”
Truth. Hard truth.
David Rock said it best: If you have a brain, you’re biased.
Unconscious bias affects us everyday, including in corporate environments.
- Implicit Western leadership theory aggregates the perceptions of study participants and finds that the ideal leader is generally perceived as male, white, individualistic, competitive, and extroverted.
- Height leadership theory goes further to say that men and women generally prefer leaders that are tall (average 5’8″ or higher in the west). All you need to do is Google the average height of all of our American Presidents to see the evidence.
So I’m screwed. I am female, Asian-American and 5’2″ tall.
Wait, it gets better.
- INTRA-personal leadership theory posits that low power groups (such as minorities) perpetuate these dominant group biases by internalizing the belief that they do not fit the leadership mold.
So much for diversity at the top.
If others don’t perceive me as a leader and I don’t even perceive myself as a leader, how can I possibly be President?
Welcome to the messiness of intersectionality.
So how do under-represented groups get their voices heard? (Credit: Professor Adam Galinsky)
- Ask for Advice.
- Show passion.
- Get knowledge.
- Psych yourself up.
- Gain allies.
- Advocate for others. (“Mama Bear” effect)
- Help others speak up. “Amplification” effect.
- Tap into other’s authentic passions.
- Signal flexibility.
- Perspective take.
- Watch Timing.
Net net, we cannot give everyone a brain transplant but we can control what we can control by widening our field of influence, contacts, allies, sponsors, and trusted advisors.
You’re never going to be President, but maybe you’ll be badass nonetheless.