Gender Bias – The Flinch Factor

mqdefaultWhen flicking through channels, I find that I am always willing to pause on Alan Alda’s skinny grin, especially when he’s gaming with university scientists.  The Brains on Trial episode I happened on wanted to answer the question:  “Can we map bias in the brain using the human eye’s normal flinching reaction?”
This was part of a larger effort to determine if  science could predict the racial bias of potential judges, prosecutors or jurors.

The experiment’s subjects, including Alda, were wired, then shown a series of photographs  — faces of various races, genders, ethnicity.  Scientists wanted to correlate the flinch with the brain’s bias location.    The study was inconclusive. Yes, subjects flinched when faced with the ‘other.’   Other being race, ethnicity and gender different than their own.

Was the flinch a normal reaction to an unknown or  was the flinch a trigger for bias?

This experiment reminded me of the headline:  Without fanfare, Obama advances transgender rights.   What the President has quietly enacted through executive orders includes: granting civil rights protection to this group, making it easier for transgender to obtain health insurance, cover specific surgery costs, obtain public access to restrooms and sports programs.  And, finally,  banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Barbara Siperstein, the first transgender person elected to Democratic committee,Barbra S notes these changes have been quiet by design to avoid unnecessary drama (or flinch triggers) posed by religious and/or conservative groups.  Transgender people are often misunderstood and/or shunned minority. (Estimates indicate that transgender people make up only 3% of total population.)   Gender identify, unlike sexual orientation, refers to a person’s sense of being male, female, or neither.  As a group, however, they are vulnerable to violence, abuse, and murder; they suffer from a higher rate of suicide than the general population (41% compared to 1.6%.)

Transgender rights may seem to some as a stealth movement from the Oval Office.  However, individual states had passed non-discriminatory legislation to protect sexual orientation and gender rights.  Courts in these states have upheld their rights.  Some cities have passed specific ordinances protecting public access rights for the transgender community.  The city of Boston required all its health plans to cover ‘gender dysphoria’.

Transgender people, feeling more courageous with acceptance and support, have vocalized and raised awareness about their identity issues — and what it means to be transgender.  Wives have supported their husbands’ changes; parents have spoken openly about their children’s gender.

And the workplace?  Will transgender employees feel more open in the workplace?  Will they be accepted by their coworkers?  Will they fully develop their talents and skills?  It was not so long ago that lunchrooms, training programs and promotions were out of bounds for persons of color.  It was not so long ago that customers complained that they wanted to speak to the manager – not some woman!  It was not so long ago that the handicapped were too limited in scope, and even intelligence, to deserve an interview.

What the Obama administration wants, as previous presidents have also worked toward, is a truly open work environment for all individuals to bloom and grow.   This ideal requires open minds and hearts.

If you find that you flinch at the photo of a transgender person, remember flinching is the normal reaction of your eyes.  It does not have to trigger bias.   The flinch may simply remind you to stop, look and listen – to the other.






About mcgntr

About Ann I was lucky and grew up in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts surrounded by the arts, industry, literature, and family. I had a great education-- undergraduate work at Caldwell College and my masters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I began business life as Training Assistant. Returning east, I continued in the training profession, and ‘fell’ into Human Resources - first, Recruiting and Employment, Director of Human Resources and finally Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Training. I bowed out of the corporate world with the white collar layoffs in early ‘90s – and started a new venture McGill Enterprises: HelpQuick Human Resources Advisory & Training Services. I have enjoyed great opportunities - publishing 3 training books, mentoring HR professionals, creating a wide variety of training programs, writing scripts, and becoming an adjunct professor.
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