Breaking the Mold, Starting with Myself

By Andrea Schneider

My blog is my own. I’m not given any guidelines, any script, any targets to meet. There’s no auditing – when I publish a post, it’s available for the whole world to see. That’s the most daunting fact. On one hand, it’s amazing to have such autonomy. On the other hand, I find it is almost impossible to be creative when there are no rules.

So this is going to be a themed blog post. On the Breaking the Mold initiative, which was created by MIT Sloan Women in Management to start a conversation about unconscious biases.

So back to the Breaking the Mold initiative. As with all initiatives at MIT Sloan (and MIT as a whole), it’s about action. What types of actions, you ask? Well, let’s talk about the events over the last 7 days.

Project Implicit Workshop

Dr. Carlee Hawkins from Harvard University’s Project Implicit came to give a workshop about uncovering implicit biases. I’ll describe it in one word: amazing. No, illuminating.

Before the workshop, I started thinking about what types of implicit biases I’ve run into in the past. There was this great cartoon I read a couple of months ago that tried to get at the implicit sexism that goes on in the tech industry. This was really close to home for me, as a female scientist, as I encountered similar gender balances as the tech industry. It goes something like this:

Medium: The Ping Pong Theory of Tech Sexism, by Ariel Schrag

It’s frustrating mostly because there is no easy solution. But this workshop brought us a bit closer to realizing our own biases, not just those of others (which, in my humble opinion, are usually easier to notice).

The workshop started by taking a broad perspective on what biases can look like. This was one of the first examples. You can try it out if you want.

Read aloud the following words:

Red   Green   Blue   Yellow   Black   Brown   Purple   Red   Green

Now state the colors of the fonts of the following words (not the words themselves):

It’s difficult to do, right? You’re conditioned to read the text, and then immediately asked to ignore it. You want to go by the directions prompted in the task, but your brain doesn’t want to let you.

After a few more superficial examples of implicit biases, Dr. Hawkins prodded us to dive deeper into some more meaningful biases. If I’ve sparked your interest at all, you should go onto the Project Implicit Website and try some of the implicit association tests offered.

I was slightly shocked to learn about my implicit biases. First, that I associate words related to “work” and “career” with men, and words related to “home” and “family” to women. How could a self-identified feminist be so biased against women’s careers? Well, I can’t say for sure, but probably from a lifetime of societal conditioning. But the good news is, now that I know about my bias, I can work to address it and keep myself from making biased choices that disempower women. Or at least try to recognize when I do.

Ask Me Anything: Africa

From Left to Right: Moderator Prof. Valerie Karplus, Panelists
Prof. Calestous Juma, Perihan Abou-Zeid, David Machingaidze, and Tuoyo Ebigbeyi.

This lunch panel was a great opportunity to ask questions about Africa, with no reason to hold back questions we thought were stupid or stereotype driven. It was meant to be a safe environment. Unfortunately, I don’t think we really felt as safe as we could’ve, maybe because it was such a short panel discussion that we didn’t get the chance to become comfortable with the setting. It was also in a huge classroom, which made it feel less intimate than it could have felt. For instance, I was surprised that nobody asked any questions related to the ebola epidemic.

That being said, we did get to ask some great questions. It was a great chat and I learned that I don’t know very much about Africa. But the feeling that I left with was that African problems are not much different than American problems. Bringing the issues close to home helped me to understand that maybe Africa is not such an enigma after all.

The Yarn

Storytellers at The Yarn: Breaking the Mold, from left to right: Alanna Hughes (HKS MPA ’16/MBA ’15), Emily Koepsell (LGO ’16), Ellie Yogev (MBA ’16), Cainon Coates (MBA ’15), Juliano Pereira (MBA ’15), and Elena Mendez Escobar (MBA ’15).

The Yarn is MIT Sloan’s version of NPR’s Moth Radio Hour. Last night, The Yarn and SWIM teamed up for a Breaking the Mold themed Yarn event. Sloanies told stories about when they broke the mold. I want to say more, but you really just had to be there. Thank you Alanna Hughes, Juliano Pereira, Cainon Coates, Ellie Yogev, Elena Mendez Escobar, and Emily Koepsell for bravely sharing your stories with us.

In the past seven days, I have learned so much about myself. Thank you, Breaking the Mold, for giving me the opportunity to grow.