Time to unbox the bias

By Malavika Varadan

Published: Thu 18 Feb 2021, 6:05 PM

I remember walking into a car

showroom a few years ago. “Malavika,” I told myself, “I’m finally here to buy myself a new car.” I thought that was a pretty clear brief.

I was there to reward myself for a hard year. I was there to buy a car that would reflect my personality, keep me safe and that looked good. In spite of what I said, the car salesman on duty that evening did not hear or believe me.

He must have been in his late 20s, but no matter what question I asked, he insisted on only sharing his answers, his opinions with the man who was with me. About 30 minutes of engine-talk later, I had to stop and tell him that it was I who was buying the car. For me to drive. I would be paying for it too. I never went back to that brand, but I learnt a lesson that day — that our biases are bad for business.

That car salesman probably hasn’t even realised it, but he may have lost hundreds of thousands of dirhams worth of business because he simply presumes that women can’t make decisions about cars. Replicate this story — replace car with real estate or accounting software or new laptop or pretty much anything really, and the story still holds true (a million times over in this city and a hundred others). Your customers want to be seen and heard, and that doesn’t change with gender or race.

A friend of mine, who runs a very successful sustainable fashion brand, told me that when dealing with vendors in the packaging business she was asked to bring a man along to have the conversation about money.

During a sales pitch I heard this week, a man who runs a pen store said, “Pens would be a perfect Valentine’s Day present for husbands.” As though women don’t write...

My guess is that none of these men even realised that they were saying something that put off nearly 50 per cent of their potential clients. The stories I tell are those of biases around gender, but I’m sure the conversation extends to race too. That is a Pandora’s box with its lid half-open.

The trouble with the workplace is that while we may have more data than ever before available to us, we make decisions based on our instincts. And our instincts have often much to do with social conditioning. Ideas of race, gender, religion and culture are hard-wired into us to the point that we don’t even realise it sometimes, but that comes at a cost.

Money talks, right? Businesses are for profit, are they not? Then maybe you want to spend some time this week examining the biases that are holding you and your team back. Listen to your people, listen to yourself speak and really examine what words and phrases you are using that may be keeping away an entire section of consumers.

If you work in hospitality, how do you treat your customers? If you work in sales, is your sales pitch designed for both genders? If you are a teacher, are you making decisions for your students based on your own biases and beliefs?

If the answer is “I am not sure”, take the time to unbox that bias. Your target might be lying at the bottom of that box.


More news from
How austerity measures are squeezing informal workers


How austerity measures are squeezing informal workers

The current wave of austerity imperils the physical and mental health of the world’s most vulnerable workers. Studies have shown that the IMF’s structural-adjustment programmes have exacerbated health inequities in the Global South, where the majority of informal workers live