My Unconscious Bias Experience

By Stacey Buttel – Career Facilitator

Prior to being a Career Facilitator, I was in education for 21 years.  The last 4 of those 21 years, I was in administration.  When I went back to school to obtain my educational administration license, my dream was to be an athletic director.  Once I obtained the license, I immediately started to apply for various athletic director positions, mostly in the large suburban district where I already worked.  Middle school, high school, it didn’t matter to me.  I just wanted to be in athletics.  I was, and still am, a sports junky.  During that time, the district that I worked in was very heavily male dominated in administration.  It was famous for being a “good ol’ boy” network.  It was hard for females to obtain a position in administration, not to mention being an athletic director.  I was determined to break through.

I was always granted an interview and always made it to the final round.  So my resume wasn’t that bad, right?  Once I went to the final round I was asked about my athletic experience.  Even though it was clearly stated on my resume that I had over 20+ years of coaching sports (I started coaching high school sports while I was in college), I was more than happy to talk about what I coached.  Here’s the thing.  I had 20+ years of coaching cheerleading and dance, and then 2 years of coaching track and field in which I was still involved in.  Once the topic of coaching cheerleading and dance was brought up, you could almost feel the attitude shift in the interview.  I am well aware of the perception of cheerleading and dance.  They are not sports, right?  Wrong!  I coached competitive cheerleading and dance.  We went to numerous competitions and even won a national title twice.  Not too bad for a group of girls from central Ohio!  Also, have you ever had to deal with the drama of cheerleaders and dancers?  Oh yeah, that’s a whole other skill set you have to build.  But yet a few days after the interview, I always got the call that I did not get the job due to lack of “experience.”  Never mind that I was an athletic site manager for football, soccer, and basketball for several years at my high school where I taught, was the announcer at home girl’s basketball games, and my extreme outside interests in various different sports (don’t come around me during NFL football games, NCAA bowl games, or March Madness – it’s not for the weak).  I felt it always came down to I didn’t coach the right thing.  Is that just in my mind?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

It took me 3 years to obtain an administration position.  3.  Years.  Do you know what happened?  I stopped applying for athletic director positions.  I gave up on my dream.  The first assistant principal position that I applied for that was not associated with athletics (it was curriculum), I was hired.  Apparently, my lack of experience in administration was not an issue.  And of course, it was not in the district that I was working in.  Now, I am proud to say that the aforementioned district has numerous females in administration, and even one is a female athletic director.  She is my friend and she is doing great!

Why did I tell you my story?  Because I believe that it is an example of unconscious bias in the workplace.  Unconscious bias are habits that we have learned over time about how you treat certain people – and you don’t realize you are doing it.  Unconscious biases are often based on mistaken, inaccurate, or incomplete information.  These biases can have a significant impact on the workplace.  They can shape who gets recruited, hired, and promoted.  Having an unconscious bias does not make you a bad person.  It means you are human. 

In order to be a more diverse workplace, we must be aware of potential unconscious biases that we may have and overcome them.  We can interrupt these biases and that first step is awareness.  If you catch yourself thinking a certain way about a person or group of people, stop and think why.  Recognize that you may have an unconscious bias.  Let’s start to embrace people for who they are and what their background and experiences they can bring to the table.  Let’s all start to value diversity and how it can benefit our workplace.  And if you are ever wondering on how to handle high school girl drama, I am an expert in that field.

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