Bias Is a Virus

Prescription Drugs and supplies next to wood blocks with the letters spelling BIAS on them.

Loved the title quote from Toni Allen in last week’s Inclusion and Diversity Zoom meeting sponsored by Schnake Turnbo Frank, an Oklahoma-based PR firm. The good news is that, unlike the COVID-19 virus, this disease is preventable. Yet, we are witnessing a raging contagion across the country, affecting women and minorities at a disproportionate rate.

Teaching, nursing, social and community service jobs are still largely occupied by women. They are at the front lines of this pandemic with higher risks of exposure. Decades of bias have worsened their position, with the gender pay gap continuing to prevail.

Likewise, according to a report by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Latino population is in a similar position, with work concentrated in vulnerable and essential industries involving our food supply and caregiver roles. The report cited a 2017 Census Bureau report indicating that only 49% of Latino people had private insurance coverage, compared to 75.5% of non-Hispanic whites.

And, according to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, many black Americans are at a higher risk for COVID-19. In fact, a Washington Post analysis found that African Americans have nearly six times the rate of death compared to areas where white residents are in the majority. Inadequate provisions for personal protection in vulnerable positions are likely contributors to that death rate.

The cure for this is, first, being made aware of how bias is perpetuated in an unconscious, systemic way that manifests itself in compensation and benefits. In the same aforementioned I&D forum, Kuma Roberts, executive director of Mosaic, the Tulsa Chamber’s inclusion program, said turning the tide requires a critical reflection on one’s own biases.

“Realizing that all of us have different backgrounds and experiences, the failure comes from being unaware and taking subconscious actions that perpetuate these biases,” Roberts said.

Through this global crisis, we have become more aware that some of the lowest-paid positions are critical to our society’s success. As we rise up from this global shutdown, we have an opportunity to apply lessons learned. We can create a new legacy. This includes discarding stale patterns by vaccinating ourselves with a solid dose of humanity, empathy and widening our circle of understanding of interdependence and coexistence.

This article was originally featured in The Journal Record on April 24, 2020.

Written by Shannon Warren

Shannon Warren is a former HR executive, business ethics professor and nonprofit CEO. She is president of the Women’s Diversity Initiative of Oklahoma. Visit the About page for more info.

April 24, 2020

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