We all have biases. Some biases are informed from the messages we see in the media, or from our friends and family. Some are formed from the experiences we’ve had, or the experiences we haven’t had. And, because the brain must process millions of pieces of information in a short amount of time, it defaults to those biases to help react to information faster. It stands to reason that we cannot combat some of our unhealthy biases through exposures that contradict our current influences and experiences all at once.
I believe taking action in early adolescence can rectify biases later in life. I’ve heard my son and daughter’s coaches yell things like, “if you’re going to run like a girl, I’ll give you a purse!” Sadly, we cannot control all the influences in our lives. But as parents, we purposefully ensure that our children are around a diverse set of individuals, to combat some of the harmful messages they’ll hear. We have a female pediatrician, a male orthodontist, and a dentist from Nigeria who is also a woman of color. It’s my hope that this will help them realize that anyone can become and be anything—your gender, the color of skin, or accent aren’t indicators of ability and skills in any way.
Although more difficult to alter, there are actions we can take as adults as well. If you’re self-aware enough to realize that you do have biases (which, if you’re human, you do), you can take steps to challenge them.
If you feel men are better at engineering, attend “Women in Technology” events to see all the amazing talent. If you feel that women are better at childcare, spend some time with a stay-at-home dad to see how great they can be. I tell my kids every day that if anything can be done, they can do it. We also need to tell ourselves that about people who are different from us.
Barbie Brewer is chief culture officer at Gitlab.