The day I experienced the most extreme case of bias in my career was supposed to be a typical day. I was giving a presentation to a group of middle-aged investors, some of whom I had known from previous business experiences. They were all men, but I was used to that. In Fintech (financial technology), you're always presenting to a group of men.
At the point in my career as a Creative Director, I had given dozens of presentations before – to investors, potential partners, even to groups of buttoned-up professionals at a Fintech trade show in San Francisco. I felt confident in the material and myself. I was ready.
The gentlemen were seated in our office's conference room at a quarter to noon. It was a lunch meeting, and they were prompted to look over a lunch menu while they waited. The CEO was chatting with them when I walked in, a warm, welcoming smile on my face. I extended my right hand for a handshake towards the man closest to the door.
Instead, I was greeted with, "Hey, sweetheart, I'll take a taco."
When I get to this point in the story, I feel like I need to justify myself by noting that I dressed professionally. I wore a blazer and black pants, black flats, a pin on my left lapel. I'm deeply aware that this is the conditioning women receive from the time they hit puberty.
The fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter how I dressed. Perhaps the man didn't even register what I was wearing. It seems that all he recognized was that I am a woman.
The implicit bias towards me, as a woman, reared its ugly head at that moment. I was there to take his lunch order, not present a Fintech product to him.
Fintech is a boy's club, a fact I never forget as a twenty-something female in the industry. And the future doesn't seem to be calling in much change. When browsing through the Forbes' Most Innovate Fintech Companies in 2019, I found that only one out of fifty CEO's is a female.
Right now, the atmosphere in Fintech is almost uninhabitable for women. And I say almost because there are movements to change this statistic. For instance, the LendIt Fintech Show in San Francisco hosts a "Women in Fintech" mentorship program, which could help...
except, when I tried to match with a mentor, I matched up with a man.
Even if I had been inclined to join the program, I would have missed essential keynotes lectures or potential partnership meetings. The mentorship program was planned right in the middle of the conference.
Even with small movements to recognize women or bring women together, implicit bias shows up in small and delicate ways, like papercuts on your fingertips. Compared to more significant issues – i.e., #MeToo – implicit biases are rarely cause for job termination or, in my case, a reason not to accept an investment offer.
It's essential to continue pointing out these implicit biases, even if you are too stunned at the moment to react. Just because your safety may not be in danger from a comment – such as the one I received – that doesn't invalidate the pain the words may have caused. Implicit biases might seem like a papercut, but they're as paralyzing as venom.
Join us on October 23, 2019, at Roger Williams University for Cocktails and Conversations panel discussion about Flipping Unconscious Bias. Get your tickets here.