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Unconscious Bias Thrives in Silicon Valley

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Silicon Valley is top-of-mind when it comes to great examples of the impacts and effects of bias in technology circles. The lack of women and minorities in key leadership roles at big tech companies begs the question of whether bias exists—conscious or otherwise. Many of these companies have published their diversity statistics (or lack thereof!); resultant media coverage has spurred some to make declarations to change.

Others, however, still don’t seem to recognize how detrimental a lack of inclusivity may be. Such is the case for Microsoft, which has just been handed a lawsuit for gender discrimination. Recall that almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said women shouldn’t push to advance their careers or ask for raises. Instead, he suggested women sit and wait for karma to kick in and move their careers forward.

We’re reminded of this advice in light of this recent lawsuit. In his Wall Street Journal article, “Microsoft Accused of Discriminating Against Women in Lawsuit,” Ezequiel Minaya reports, “The lawsuit—filed by Katie Moussouris, who worked at Microsoft for seven years—accuses the software maker of paying women lower wages and promoting them less frequently, as compared with their male counterparts.”

In greater detail, “The lawsuit alleged that Ms. Moussouris routinely received lower performance ratings than male peers despite performing better.” Additionally, the lawsuit “accuses a male supervisor of retaliating against Ms. Moussouris by assigning her a low bonus after she accused him of sexually harassing women in her department.” After looking deeper into the accusation, Microsoft learned that Moussouris was right, and that the supervisor had, indeed, sexually harassed female coworkers.

Is unconscious bias at work here? Does Nadella’s suggestion that women not proactively pursue raises and promotions hint at a culture that may be pervasive at multiple levels within the organization? It would seem so. If it’s true that Moussouris performed better than her male colleagues, yet earned a lower wage, certainly suggests some bias.

The need to address and correct unconscious bias isn’t limited to Silicon Valley, but can be applied to all technology companies—in fact, all companies, large and small everywhere. As inclusive leaders, we need to set the example that any employee, regardless of background, needs to be accepted and included in the workplace, and rewarded equitably for their contributions. Failure to recognize and address unconscious biases at all levels of leadership could not only hinder your company’s success, but could also lead to costly lawsuits.

The trouble with unconscious bias is that they’re unconscious, or hidden! We have the resources to help inclusive leaders discuss unconscious biases with their teams. We can all learn from Microsoft’s example.

Be inclusive!

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