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Zoom and Unconscious Bias

Most of us have spent an incredible amount of time online in the past year. Working, attending classes, exercising, and even throwing birthday parties. Interacting with friends and strangers online involved learning a whole new social skillset and letting go of some previously established principles. For instance, when did we become comfortable with the idea of attending a virtual business meeting where clothing from the waist down was optional? Amidst getting used to a new form of social interaction, we can’t help but ask ourselves how biases and social standards are being affected.

We are all either guilty of or victims of unconscious bias on a daily basis. As a short person, I have often been described as less assertive and less dominating which has inevitably influenced people’s behavior and business decisions. After moving online where my height was not the first discernable factor, I noticed a shift in people’s attitude and sensed an ease in establishing more respect. Our interactions with others involved less judgement based on outer appearance such as height and weight which often trigger the unconscious bias and more value placed on the individual’s work and words.

On the other hand, living virtually has fostered a sense of comfort and informality that allowed students to become exceedingly comfortable attending classes in their pajamas, managers in their workout clothes, and interviewees in their car while driving. Since this could be interpreted as a lack of effort – often because of unconscious bias or social constructs – it could demotivate and discourage the 2nd party from the ongoing interaction.

As this is still quite new territory for most of us, we have yet to establish whether this informality is creating closer bonds between people and promoting a sense of familiarity, or whether it is counterproductive and conforming to conventional standards – even virtually – should be restored. Either way, we have a lot to learn about respecting fellow human beings regardless of appearances until our unconscious bias no longer affects our decisions.

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