Another Unconscious Bias Hits Me in the Face

July 8, 2021

I was working on a PR campaign for one of our clients. It was a big project and I found it easy to work with their project leader, Mel. Throughout the project, we bonded. Then an unconscious bias showed itself.

I was working on a PR campaign for one of our clients and was meeting with their project leader, Mel. It was a big project and I found it so easy to work together. We had these intense half-day meetings, then we each went back to our respective teams for more input and then reconvened and reworked the pitch. Over the course of those two months, we bonded. Not only did we sync up on the work, but we seemed to get each other’s quirks. It was productive and fun to work with Mel.

When the project ended, we agreed to see each other socially because we felt such a kinship. I was really looking forward to getting to know Mel more and sharing more of my story with them. Once our dinners were ordered, they asked me about my background. Where did I grow up, what did my parents do for work, where did I go to school? You know, the usual getting to know stuff. I blathered on and on and finally took a breath.

When I asked Mel to share their story, I found out they grew up in the foster care system. Stories about their parents, siblings and various homes were pretty rough. I learned they escaped into books and had an exceptional 10th grade teacher that made sure that Mel got college scholarships. Their success in life was against every single odd.

I’m ashamed to admit this but I was stunned. Mel didn’t fit my stereotype of a foster kid. They were so smart and polished that I assumed they had a privileged upbringing. Fortunately, I behaved appropriately in the moment, but I really had to take a cold look in the mirror when I got home. I had to challenge some pretty terrible, unfair assumptions.

There is a happy ending to this story. Mel and I have become good friends. We’ve had some tough conversations where we both revealed our biases. And I see a long friendship ahead.