Saturday, August 11, 2012

Unconscious and Hidden Bias and Prejudice

“How do you cope with it?” said my colleague leaning forward so as keep his voice down.

“Cope with what? I said.

“All the people staring at you, talking about you, sniggering... ?”

“Where?” I said, turning in my seat to survey the people sitting around in the hotel lounge, apparently getting on with their own meetings.

“Oh, they’ve stopped now you’ve looked,” replied my colleague.
“Who was making comments?” I asked, raising my voice a little.
“Leave it” he said quickly raising his hand a little, obviously mortified by the thought that I might make a scene and further embarrass him.
I relaxed.  “I cope with it because I don’t see it,” I said.  

“People do it behind my back – they hide their prejudice.” 

That was a real incident 10 years ago when I first changed my gender and started on my journey to change attitudes towards people who break the unwritten rules of gender. Since then the law has changed beyond recognition and most organisations now have in place equality policies to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

People have learnt over the past decade not to be seen to discriminate and rightly they will be disciplined if they behave inappropriately.  But changing the law does not change attitudes and beliefs.  That is much more difficult and the challenge organisations face today is the unconscious and hidden bias and prejudice that is impacting the way people are treated every day.

People still talk about me behind my back, refer to me a “he” instead of “she”, point and snigger when I pass and I still seldom see or hear any of it.  But my friends, family and acquaintances do. Where people hide their deep prejudice from me, they openly show it to people to know me, even confronting them for being with me. 

What they don’t understand is that my friends, family and acquaintances are just as hurt and upset by their behaviour and comments as I would be if they didn’t hide it from me.  And this is happening every day in most organisations.

So how can the issue be addressed? 

Well my experience over the past decade has demonstrated to me to me that the most people hold prejudices through ignorance. Many have never met and spoken to anyone who is trans or gay, and they have been hugely influenced by homophobic and transphobic comments from friends, family and the media.  They see and hear trans and gay people and being humiliated and ridiculed, often behind their backs.  They see the friends of trans and gay people receiving the same treatment and fear that if they befriend or stand up for someone who is gay or trans they will get the same treatment and feel bullied into silence.

Feedback from my workshops indicates that participants are much more likely to challenge homophobic and transphobic comments, contribute to creating a more harmonious and supportive workplace and treat all service users more fairly and equally after attending an awareness workshop.

If organisations do not run regular awareness workshops on this topic the chances are that anyone who is or is perceived to be in anyway gender variant or is associated with someone who is gender variant in the organisation will be subject to unconscious or hidden bias or prejudice.  

I trans friend of mine Michelle was shopping in a large retail clothes shop some time ago and was standing in one queue for the tills while her female friend was being served in another queue. The check out clerk spotted Michelle and made some really offensive remarks about her. 

When she was told about the comments Michelle was upset and mentioned it to me so I suggested that she contact the store management and complain.  She did and all credit to the store, the staff member was sacked the following day. But when I told this story to a number of other trans people they all agreed that they would not have complained and some said that they would probably have used the store  again perceiving it to be transphobic. 

If you would like more information on Sex, Gender and Equality awareness training please check out my GenderNetwork web site  

As one of the UK’s leading motivational speakers and trainers, I have been delivering equality and diversity workshops and keynote presentations for nearly a decade and work with over 250 organisations, particularly local authorities, housing associations, educational, NHS and criminal justice organisations.

My workshops and presentations are always highly interactive and entertaining, exploring the impact of the Equality Act in regard to sex, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation and human rights, while demonstrating how the principles discussed apply equally across all protected characteristics.  I use a variety of presentation methods - video clips, music, lecture, discussion, groups exercises, questions and answer, case studies and where I use PowerPoint - it is a visual aid.  No death by slides presentations.

Most importantly my presentations are based on real life experience.  I take participants on a journey to help them to really understand what it’s like to grow up and cope with being trans or gay, and provide an open environment where they can ask any questions no matter how personal.

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