May 8, 2019
“Mutilating someone’s name is a tiny act of bigotry. Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right.”—Jennifer Gonzalez, on the chronic mispronunciation of unfamiliar names.
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Social entrepreneur Shabazz Stuart reflects on his experience navigating bureaucracy as a Black man with working class roots but, as he puts it, “a distinctly privileged pedigree; top tier schools, a compelling resume.” He says that although his education and professional experience have taught him how to “mask my working class background with eloquence and ‘in-crowd’ jokes,” that doesn’t stop people from viewing him “through the context of blackness”—and it doesn’t grant him the power and influence he needs to make his projects a reality. As he writes, “Younger founders from non-traditional backgrounds are far less capable at calling upon powerful relationships and favors to help move projects through the bureaucratic process.” Stuart points out that the majority of fully realized public-private partnerships in New York City are those backed by large corporations that are run by white men, even though the services delivered through these partnerships are used by primarily Black and Latinx residents.
Stuart calls himself a “straddler,” which journalist Alfred Lubrano defines as someone “who come[s] from two different class backgrounds and [is] not really at home in either.” Stuart’s story above is a powerful illustration of the impact of race and class on professional ambition, and should serve as a call for leaders to move away from business based on “traditional power and influence” and toward inclusive and accessible collaboration.
Take an honest look at the resources to which a potential job candidate or business partner might need access in order to work with your team. Does your organization or institution rely heavily on insider connections or professional influence? How can you make your practices more accessible to a wider range of candidates and partners?
Writer E.B. Bartels was raised to be aware of mental illness in her family, including her grandmother’s schizophrenia and her father and aunts’ panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. While her family’s openness gave her a stronger understanding of mental illness, Bartels has been unable to shake “one very real, very possible fear...the fear of becoming schizophrenic.” Her fears were exacerbated by shows like “Law & Order,” which portray schizophrenia as “dangerous, frightening, horrifying.” Now, Bartels credits Marin Sandy’s The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia as “a revelation.” Bartels says that the book, which is told from the perspective of someone who has schizophrenic family members, “made [her] realize how much of [her] anxiety was bound up in the fear that if [she] became schizophrenic, [she] would lose the people [she] loved.” After reading The Edge of Every Day, Bartels says she was able to learn more about her grandmother’s legacy “as a human being, someone who was loved,” and in turn relinquish the fear of developing schizophrenia herself.
Bartels’ story is a testament to the importance of seeing our experiences mirrored in the media. The stigma against mental illness is rooted in ableist attitudes that are then reinforced in shows like “Law & Order,” where, as Bartels mentions, it seems like “the murderer [is] always someone with schizophrenia.” Ableism and the stigma that follows can have a devastating impact on people with mental illness and their loved ones, which doubles the healing significance of books like The Edge of Every Day.
Think about the media you consume and whether it perpetuates ableist beliefs or perspectives—and whether these notions have informed your understanding of mental illness and other forms of disability. To develop a better understanding of such issues, check out these lists of mental health-friendly books, TV shows, and movies.
A new study shows that in employee performance evaluations, a six-point scale can lead to less gender bias than a 10-point scale. The researchers found that when employee performance evaluators considered 10/10 performance, they thought of a “genius” or a “superstar”—labels that are often used to describe men more than women and activate “deeply ingrained” notions of male brilliance and higher scrutiny of women’s work. The result was that “John” would score higher than “Julie,” even when they demonstrated equivalent performance. When the evaluators used a six-point scale, though, John and Julie were equally as likely to receive 6/6 scores, but evaluators still used more superlative language to describe John’s performance, as compared to Julie’s. As the researchers explain, “The underlying stereotype of male brilliance was still present, but a 6/6 rating didn’t elicit as strong cultural images of perfection and brilliance as a 10/10, so the 6-point scale limited the expression of bias.”
We like this study because it demonstrates that even small features of your performance materials can have a big impact in terms of bias. By simply changing a 10-point to a six-point scale, you can reduce the gender bias inherent in performance evaluations. Even if the switch doesn’t remove gender stereotypes altogether, such interventions can “interrupt” their effect.
Review your performance evaluation materials for places in which you can update from a 10-point scale to a six-point scale. Furthermore, consider how else your tools and processes may invite notions of male brilliance or higher scrutiny of women’s work—perhaps in the interview questions you ask, or even in how you advertise the job.