Bring Your Own Bias
No one has to be reminded that our country has been deeply affected by the renewed awareness of the mistreatment of our Black citizens. The police violence directed at members of our Black community has given rise to greater awareness, protests, policy debate and some policy changes. As we concurrently face down a pandemic, the inequities in basic healthcare and security have also been laid bare. Furthermore, we’ve been reminded that other types of racial injustice persist including lack of access to economic opportunities.
Our fundamental belief at the Alliance is that “Diversity Fuels Innovation,” but having that as our tagline is not enough. We must do something. We may not have a significant national influence and we may not be able to solve all problems rooted in racial inequality, but we can act locally and work to change the realities here in Southern California. That is why, on September 10th, we gathered some of SoCal’s most prominent business and investment leaders to reflect on their own biases and to begin thinking about potential solutions we might initiate locally and regionally. We titled the event “BYOB: Bring Your Own Bias” and are grateful for the generosity of the event sponsor, Amgen.
Because we wanted to provide a safe place for the guests to speak freely, we decided against publicly listing the names of the guests nor the companies they represented. Let it suffice to say we were impressed and humbled by the major SoCal companies and executives that were vested in putting an end to civil inequalities and learning more about their own implicit biases.
We brought together Song Richardson, the UCI Law School Dean and national expert on implicit bias, and Julie Hill, a board member of Anthem, Lord Abbett, and Vice-chair at the Alliance to conduct a fireside chat on the effects of implicit bias. After the chat they invited the participants to share their thoughts, fears, vulnerabilities and concerns. Song, who has convened a number of these conversations, was immediately struck by the impactful introductions, remarking that she had never been in a group like this that was so open from the beginning.
The participants shared their unique experiences with this topic, which ranged from personal inter-generational histories of trying to overcome racial barriers, to a more recent realization in the wake of the George Floyd murder that we do not live in a colorblind society. They acknowledged several systemic issues and agreed that even ‘solutions’ such as Artificial Intelligence are not free from bias. AI, for instance, learns based on the data provided just like humans do, and is susceptible to making the same mistakes that humans do around race, gender, and other identities.
The participants discussed how we all have learned stereotypes and, whether we are conscious of it or not, our brains make judgements based on racial and gender cues in milliseconds. They recognized that implicit bias and inequality is a ‘firmware’ problem, rather than an easy and superficial ‘software’ fix. Yet, despite recognizing this difficulty, they remained steadfast in their desire to overcome the firmware issue and get on with real-world solutions.
The enthusiasm in the room was palpable and the ‘what to do next’ question lingered in the air. Some organizations described how they are developing or have implemented more robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Some had programs to help marginalized employees through their key career points. Others reported on programs that had been put into place ahead of 2020 and the challenges they experienced with their implementation. Still others simply yearned to learn more, share their personal experiences, or learn organizational best practices to support a more inclusive and better supported workforce. We could have continued the conversation for hours.
But… we ran out of time to dig deeper in our discussion. Urged on by our participants, the Alliance promised to host a ‘2.0’ meeting where leaders can share solutions and how best to implement them. It may be an eventual butterfly effect, or it may have a more immediate impact (we’re, of course, hoping for the latter) but either way we were encouraged by the leaders of these organizations and their commitment to creating a better world in which we all may live in equality and justice.
If you are a leader in your organization or in the community and want to be part of an effort to think through regional solutions that can help us build a more inclusive innovation community, please let us know by sending a note to [email protected]. We are seeking to identify co-conspirators that can help SoCal more fully realize our superpower: our region’s diversity!