When you’ve got to stay in side and try to keep warm, you can read! Yesterday, I finished Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, by Pragya Agarwal. It’s another big ole book with an academic focus, but I learned a lot about all kinds of bias and how it’s formed.
The author shared some helpful personal stories about being someone born in India who has become a citizen of the UK and has biracial children. She also had some interesting stories about how she is treated as a woman, too. These were my favorite parts of the book.
The long descriptions of various research studies that painstakingly listed every author and where their academic credentials are made a lot of the book a hard slog. I think I prefer books that do share the sources of information, but leave them in notes. That makes it easier to follow the information.
Nonetheless, anyone wanting to study unconscious bias seriously, work in the field, or teach it would benefit from reading Sway. I’m very glad I read it, because I learned a lot about the kinds of bias you find in other places, like the UK and Germany. That’s a topic I’d like to find out more about.
My other favorite sections were when Agarwal talked about bias against accents, which is something I hadn’t thought about before (though I happen to have minimized my own native north Florida accent when I became an academic, knowing I’d be taken more seriously). I found out what kinds of accents are looked down upon in Australia, England and Germany, among other places (that RP British accent is posh everywhere, it seems). And by the way, your native accent makes your amygdala happy, as I found when I talked to the nice AT&T lady on the phone last week while getting my phone plan upgraded.
I’ll leave you with the hopeful conclusion at the end of the book. I hope it’s true:
Understanding more about unconscious bias is not going to magically fix all the injustices in the world. But, if we start becoming more aware of our unconscious bias and what triggers when we are most vulnerable to it, we will become more attuned to the consequences of externalising our unconscious biases in the form of behavioural outcomes. And if we actively exercise strategies to mitigate and counter our unconscious biases, we can hopefully finally put a dent in them.Sway, p. 408
That’s my plan. To realize when I’m under pressure, stressed, or overwhelmed with data and allow myself to pause and ensure that I’m making my decisions as bias free as I can. And I’ll know there’s always work to do to make things better!