by ALEXANDRA E. PETRI
Originally published: July 7, 2017
Unconscious bias can influence who leaders choose as their protégés. Can its effects be mitigated?
Stacy Blake-Beard was 29 years old when she was starting out as a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Not only was she the youngest faculty member, but she was also younger than most of her students. One day, one of her doctoral students came into her office to discuss a research project. “[The student] looked over at me and asked, ‘How old are you, anyway?’” Blake-Beard recalls. “I think I did not fit her image of what a doctoral advisor would be.”
The idea that Blake-Beard’s age somehow prevented her from being an effective professor was a bias she often faced as an advisor, she said, even though she had the knowledge and experience necessary for the job. Since that first job, Blake-Beard has gone on to study the dynamics of such unconscious, or “implicit,” biases, and how they can affect diversity in the workplace. She’s focused on how unconscious biases can shape who mentors whom, recently publishing a book with the University of Pittsburgh business professor Audrey Murrell called Mentoring Diverse Leaders.