The Red Lines Page

October 24, 2016

I woke up to unconscious bias

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter A @ 4:56 pm

twitterYou know what they say: every generation has an odd family member that the other relatives talk about behind their back. And if you say that your family doesn’t do that, well, the bad news is that it’s you they’re talking about.

The joke is that you don’t know what you don’t know. We all make assumptions, and assumptions have biases.

Say that again

Outside of my day job, I like to tweet stuff. It’s not a work blog, and more of an odd combo of lame jokes (see above), news items I find noteworthy, and exchanges between me and others. Those other tweeps (yeah, that’s the term, get over it) are a variety of friends and colleagues in IT, technical communication, and various media fandoms that I enjoy. And a whole crowd of others who like to listen in; I’m not all that choosy.

If I see something that amuses or interests me, I will share it on Twitter. Or if it’s already on Twitter, I may forward it (adding my own comment) or retweet it unchanged as I first saw it. If I do the former, it appears with my Twitter name on the tweet when it pops up in other people’s timeline; if I do the latter, the original person’s name appears.

The other month, my wife pointed out to me: “You don’t often just retweet women.” And she was right. It wasn’t something I’d done consciously, but a combination of:

  1. What I’d chosen to share
  2. How I’d chosen to share it
  3. Who I’d chosen to follow

The third one was a bit of an eye-opener. Because if I don’t follow a diverse range of people, it’s less likely that I’ll spot and retweet their stuff. Like any social media, and social sharing, Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber of people Just Like You.

Obviously I want my Twitter experience to be more like a convivial gathering at my local, rather than a bar-clearing brawl. But I hadn’t thought, before my wife pointed it out to me, that I’d been so selective about who I followed… or perhaps I mean, not selective enough.

wocintechAlly up

This came to mind again when I read this terrific post on Etsy’s Code as Craft blog by Toria Gibbs and Ian Malpass. It’s an eight-minute read full of interesting stuff, including:

  • How software engineers communicate to themselves, and others, about craftsmanship
  • Diversity in recruitment, retention, and role models
  • Unconscious bias

The post is called Being an Effective Ally to Women and Non-Binary People. I like it because it’s written like a human being, not like an Open University lecture. And it contains some “no excuses” resources about (for example) photos of women in IT that you can use, for free, in your business presentations rather than perhaps perpetuating the stock set of picture of men we may have been using previously.

Worth a read now. Or if you’re busy, worth bookmarking. Consider this my social sharing.

Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat


  1. Great link! However, I noticed that you say that the article you’re sharing is “not like an Open University lecture”, as if that’s a good thing. I wonder, what Open University lectures did you have in mind as the basis of your comparison? I mean, the Open University doesn’t deliver many lectures, being primarily a distance learning option. Nevertheless, there are some actual lectures, distributed online or on DVDs — in the “old days” they used to be broadcast on BBC2 in the middle of the night, if you remember. I used to stay up and watch them, quite often, because they were, actually, really rather good. OK, back in the day they were sometimes curiously dated, sometimes presented by dowdy characters in bow ties and using some fairly basic visual presentations, but then some of my colleagues in the lab that we both worked in were dowdy characters in bow ties and many of my lectures at college had been far more primitive in technology, so I hesitated to hold these factors against the OU, and the lectures were invariably interesting, well-planned, well-thought-out, intelligently articulated and thought-provoking. I’ve studied formally with the OU quite recently, and can testify that this continues to be the case, except that they now often feature very sophisticated visual presentations — one of my main motivations for signing up to OU modules has been the sheer quality of the course materials. So, I have to say, in all praise of the article you’ve shared, which I just read, that I think it reads EXACTLY like an Open University lecture.

    Comment by dcwarwick — October 24, 2016 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

    • It’s a good point. I was trying to capture the idea that it wasn’t formal, nor a lecture in the pejorative sense of “he’s lecturing me”; and then I thought that not everyone has been to university, but has probably seen OU lectures on the telly.

      I suppose contrasting “human being” with “OU lecture” is provocative, though 🙂 As my wife is the one who pointed out my unconscious bias on Twitter, I’m sure she’d agree with you – not least because she has taught at the OU, and one of my children has OU qualifications.

      Comment by Peter A — October 24, 2016 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

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