Historic conflicts, Job hirings, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined again by Katriona Lord-Levins, Chief Success Officer at Bentley Systems to discuss diversity of thought and our unconscious bias. What is diversity of thought? Can you undo an unconscious bias? Plus, Adam relates the unconscious bias to a maths skill that’s simply embedded in our nature.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast.
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All right, everyone. Thanks for coming back to the School of School Podcast. Once again, really lucky, Kat Lord-Levins with us. Kat, say hi.
Hi, Andy. Hi, guys. So, Kat Lord-Levis. I'm the Chief Success Officer at Bentley Systems and Infrastructure Company.
Well, Kat, thanks for joining us once again. We're so lucky to have you, and today we're talking something about diversity of thought. I don't even know what that means. So, tell us Kat, what does that mean? What does it mean to you?
The world that we're living in right now, we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion and the importance of ensuring that we have everyone included in what we're doing and it's a wonderful set of motions that are happening particularly in the corporate world, but I think it's bleeding out across all of the others. And I've been working in this field for quite a bit with my company. And my fear is always about pendulum swings. Flavour of the month and the impact of that. And so, I'm trying to find the centre ground on how we can... So, what's the problem that we're seeking to solve, which is ensure that we are open and honest with everyone that is either applying for jobs or approaching us in any way. And so what's the centre ground on it?
And one of the things I wanted to chat with you about Andy was the unconscious bias. So a lot of people that are teaching diversity are talking a lot about people's unconscious bias and to some degree, making them feel guilty or ashamed for their unconscious bias. And so our unconscious bias is made up of our essential DNA. It comes from where we come from, what we experienced as a child. It is who we are. And yes, the world changes and we learn more things and we get educated as we move along. And our unconscious bias is stale dated. It's old, it's not relevant in today's world, but it's still part of who we are. And so, I read this book, Daniel Kaufman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow, and it really resonated with me on unconscious bias.
Instead of us making people feel bad about their unconscious bias, because I'll tell you the problem that I see about that particularly in the corporate world, but also true for children. When you start to have people second guess their unconscious bias for everything and sort of beat themselves up for having it, we're actually going against their instinct. And we hire, or people leverage their instinct, your blink reaction carries you through and makes you actually successful at so many things that you do. Now, what Kaufman talks about a lot is he talks about two things. One called system one and system two.
So system one is your blink reaction. It is that unconscious bias that you get something that impacted you as a child, you see it coming along the road, you see it, you smell something, there's an impact that's instantly your blink reaction. Now with education, you learn what's real. So you learn how to adapt to a situation, whether it's people. I mean, I grew up in Ireland. I grew up in Catholic Ireland and you hear stories about the North of Ireland being Protestant. And so there's lots of this. So an unconscious bias, particularly as a kid was if you hear or see a Protestant person, well, what does that mean to you?
Now, system two is what we call the educated thought process. So education comes along. I know that we're all the same. There is no... I'm a grown adult. I understand all the religions. I understand what happened in the world. I've studied history, et cetera. So I'm knowledgeable. So our job is to not tell people that their unconscious biases should be suppressed inside of their brain. But what we want to do is speed up the time between system one and system two. So essentially get that educated knowledge faster into your mind so your reaction is not indicative of your unconscious bias. Does that make sense?
It makes a lot of sense to me, but it's a really complicated topic. And this is like a regular point of discussion around the dinner table at our house, but that's my family. And there's so many different manifestations of this. Right? But it's interesting because I have a lot of discussions with my youngest daughter, Artemis, about this kind of stuff. And her view of me is like, "Dad, the way you see the world is... You don't live in the same universe as my generation," is basically how she sees it. Right? Well, she's 14. So, that's what most 14 year olds think of their parents. But, I remember thinking that of my parents. But anyway, I think you touched on a really interesting point here and I'm even going to tie it to mathematics a little bit.
So your brain, right? Is evolved in a certain way. Many of the motivations I expect, and I'm by no stretch of the imagination an expert of this, have to do with survival, right? That's kind of what drives most of the ways that the brain has evolved. So your brain is this ultra generalisation machine. Right? It recognises patterns and it sees the pattern and then it remembers that pattern. And then that pattern becomes part of your understanding of the universe, right? And then as you fire up those pathways and your neurons over and over again they become more and more hardwired, right? And the more times you experience this pattern, the more obvious and prevalent it becomes in your mind, right? And that's basically how we learn mathematics. Mathematics is just a bunch of generalised concepts that we refire in our brains all the time. And it becomes part of our understanding of the world. Right?
The thing is it's the same is true for every bias. Mathematics is really just a bias, right? It's just a way of looking at the world. Yeah? It's one way of interpreting the universe. It's not the only way, so I know this is getting kind of into a philosophical discussion, but, now so if you look at, "Okay, well, what if it's like mathematics and what if all your bias are like your mathematics of understanding this particular way of things?" It's very difficult to deconstruct that whether you're aware of it or not. You don't think of mathematics in that sense or language, for example. Language structures or whatever, but they're all the same thing. They're all super generalisations of lots of different concepts put together, right? Our brains have been developed over God knows how long, a very long time, to become super good at generalising things to make quick decisions that are life changing decisions all the time.
Part of that is what you're calling a bias. Now for us to deny that it exists or to say that we can just all of a sudden change our point of view on how the world should work or who should have what rights or whatever the case may be. The difference between fairness and equality, which are almost impossible to define, right? All these ultra complex philosophical concepts that our brain is already hardwired to deal with in a particular way. We're saying deconstruct all that and do it another way. Yeah, that's quite a challenge. Okay, I don't know if that made any sense to anybody. I'm not even sure it made any sense to me, but that's kind of a big... It's a big thing. Right? I don't know that there's any answer for that question.
I'm just going to go back to the very basics when you were talking about Artemis and your conversations with her, because I can relate on that level with my two teenagers and I was thinking about how you talked about language as well and how we use our language. And nowadays I also, Andy, get a lot of flack from my kids who say, I'm so out of the loop and that things that I say, perhaps because of my own upbringing and my own bias, they call me on it all the time. "Mom, you can't say that." And I'm thinking, "What did I say now?" And so, they're educating me as well though that they are bringing me up to speed and I do appreciate it, but there's no question, Kat, that these things have been formed since we are little.
Yeah. It's very arrogant and almost kind of oversimplifying to say that you can't say that anymore because the world has changed. Because you brought up the Catholic Protestant thing. Right? That immediately linked me to my dad being Greek, living on a small Greek Island, well, relatively large Greek island, but large island for Greece, right next to Turkey and his idea of Greeks and Turks. Right? Now you got to remember as long as there's been Greeks and Turks, there's been Greeks and Turks fighting. And they've been killing each other as long as there's been a thing called the Greek and a thing called the Turk. Now, of course he's going to have all kinds of bias. His relatives have been killed by so-called, what he calls, Turks. Right?
So, he's seen them get killed. Right? Of course he's going to have a bias. Right? His parents had a bias, his parents' parents had a bias, his place where he lived was occupied by Turks many times in history. Right? You can't undo that. You can't just say to my dad, "No. Now that's not true anymore. You have to forget." I mean, of course on some level... My dad visited Turkey on holiday and said, I mean, he doesn't have this kind of prehistoric view of Turks, but there is always going to be a bias there. Right? My dad would say stuff that if my kids heard him say that, they'd think, "Oh my God, my grandfather is a horrible racist person." Right? But he's not.
No. The problem is though, Andy, that I think what we have to do is acknowledge that people have an unconscious bias and how do we make sure that they have the right education to get to that second level, get to the action part, which is the educated part of your brain kicking in and don't deny-
Without using shame and guilt to do it. Right?
Well, because that's what's happening to some degree. I mean, I've heard it, I hear a third party through other people that feel the impact of the changes that are going on. Not because they don't agree with the changes, but they feel like they are suddenly the bad person and they don't want to be. And so it's, "No, look, recognise who you are and figure out how to make sure that your actions mirror the way we're fair individuals, but don't deny that unconscious bias.
Can I jump in? Can I just jump in for something here? Because my brain is actually hurting. I'm trying to think so hard about... Some of what we're talking about is that I feel like the ships kind of sailed for us now. So, we just accept the way that I've grown up, Andy, Kate, yourself, Robin, all of us, we're going to have this bias from a whole host of influences that have happened and now we've got to live with it, control it, try to manage it where needed, all of those sorts of things. But the ships sailed. So, I'm thinking of there's something else in maths. So I call it subatising, or supertising. But anyway, basically what it is, it's a very, very early concept of seeing a number of items without counting it.
But it's almost like now I can't really change what I see. So if someone throws down some counters, as much as I'd love to see a group of five without counting them and just see it, unfortunately I see sort of two and three, because that's all my brain can sort of cope with. So, it's these early... And I often think about it like a David Attenborough documentary when the chick first hatches, the first thing they see is always going to be mum, doesn't matter if it's an Alsatian. Oh, it's mum. So, I suppose the point that I'm getting at is that we can understand it for us as adults. And we can try to manage it because we know that some of our biases may have a really negative impact on some people. Some of them will be fantastic. All those sorts of things.
What's the implication for someone that's coming to school at five years old? Now, initially, and I will let you answer. I'm not trying to ask a question so I can answer it. But the only thing that I can come up with is that importance of inclusivity, of recognising the richness of so many different things that the world offers us to make sure that... Is there anything more that we can do, because this is when it's being shaped, right? For us, we're kind of done. Are we? Because we just manage it now as opposed to... But am I speaking the truth, here? Is it like, because I'm thinking of the implications of a three year old coming into school. What does this mean for us?
Yeah, I think, I mean personally the... Because I think there's some things that we're doing at adult levels that, or should be doing at adult levels that we could bring down. I think that true diversity to me is, and when I go back to diversity of thought that we started off even talking about, diversity of thought is ensuring that you surround yourself with people who do not think the same way that you do. And it keeps you honest. From a company perspective, if you hire in this way, you actually can see around corners because when you get enough viewpoints on something, you can see everything.
And I think that's what we need to do. We need to be comfortable with that when our kids bring home people that are very different from them when they are exposed to. And I mean the way they think, the way they act, the way they do. I think surrounding yourself with people who think exactly the same way that you do is when we are building problems. I think it's very much around, it might be uncomfortable at times, but ensure that you have people who are different thinkers, challenge you, and you'll find that you get people that look different than you look, naturally. And it's not almost, you're not driving it towards trying to get people that look different from you. Does that make sense?
Yeah, I think, I mean, I'm trying to, again, just think of what are those important aspects? And I think what I'm picking up, and I hope I'm right in this, is that just that openness and celebration. And also the importance of, and I know, again, I've probably been guilty of this as a teacher where I'm trying to steer a conversation or steer something in a certain way. So it might be in the middle of a lesson and you say, "Oh, Mr. Gifford, I can do it this way. Da, da, da." And it's not the one that I was after. "You know, that wasn't the one, Kat, that I wanted to tell the whole class." So I'm kind of, "Actually Kat, that's really good."
And the children know when I say that's really good, that means, "No, he's trying to stop her from talking because someone else is got the answer that he wants." I suppose it's those traps that we fall into that must ensure that, I don't know, that validation of difference and those things that we just need to be mindful of. I mean, you'd like to think that's just standard. But I guess we just need to be very mindful of that.
But the problem is, is that there's so many... None of this happens in isolation, right? There's a whole bunch of other human constructs and emotions to get wrapped up into things like diversity that make it so much more complicated than it is. It's great to say, "Let's teach everyone to see everyone as individuals and then to celebrate their differences," and those are great things to say and great things to believe and certainly things that we should aspire towards. But then you get into, let's say, the hiring process, for example, right? Now, all of a sudden, it gets complex because there's on the one hand there's pressure to have a diverse workforce, but if you're not getting diverse candidates, then you have to skew things to have a diverse workforce and that's a discrimination on its own. Right?
So, it's kind of at that stage starts flipping on its head. And then you're faced with, "Well, should I hire this person because they fall in this diversity group, even though they're not as good as this other person, who's too similar to everybody else that works here? Is that the right thing to do, and where does my responsibility lie? Because at the end of the day, I got to answer to my stakeholders, which are shareholders or whatever." Right? And that's one construct, and then this other construct of social justice is leading me to make the wrong decision for that. Now I'm stuck. What do I do? Right? And that's where it gets complicated. And I think that's... I don't know. I don't know what the answer is, but Kat, come on, you have all the answers. Tell us what the answer is. That's why you're here.
Yeah, no, I think, and to the point around the hiring, I believe we should have a diverse hiring pool. If you're not getting the candidates that are diverse, you need to ask yourself the question why? What are you putting out as a company? Are you appealing to everyone? Are you reaching? It's not that they're not showing up at your door. But again, I'm going to come back to the fact that I believe that if you blindfolded me and you disguised voices and I searched for diversity of thought in my hiring process, I will take that blindfold off and I will have an incredibly diverse set of people around the table. Be it men, women, different colours, different backgrounds, et cetera.
But don't do it for the quota system. Everything should be done for the problems that they're solving, but do it with the diversity in mind. They might come. And open up your mind to the fact that they'll approach problems from a very different angle than you approach it from. And it might look different.
All right. There's your homework, everyone. Do what Kat says, because she's right.
Yes. Thanks so much.
Thank you guys.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.