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I am technical – Decoding unconscious bias


Why do they initially assume I am NOT technical?  Is it because I am a leader, a woman or just because I am new to the team?  Is this something others have to deal with on a daily basis or is it just me?” 


ANZ employee in from of ANZ's building


I am a Product Area Lead responsible for migrating ANZ applications to new technologies. Recently I have taken on more responsibilities in the Infrastructure and Cloud Services department, cleaning up the old legacy infrastructure of the bank. 


This involves learning new technologies (core internal cloud hosting and network infrastructure technologies) that I have not been exposed to before. 


Over the last few months, I have realised I get more out of any interaction in my new role (particularly with people who do not know me) when I start the conversation with “I am technical” or “I used to be a developer, so I will understand”. 


I want them to assume I will understand, so that they don’t “dumb things down” for me.  The interesting thing is most people don’t even try to hide their surprise when I do actually get the complex technical concepts they are explaining to me.


I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science.  I specialised in User Interface Design and have built my own computers, dabbled in robotics and have worked as a developer, database administrator, technology team lead and cyber security lead in over seven countries around the world. 


This should not be surprising - there are many people I know with similar backgrounds.


It therefore makes me question…why are people surprised that I have this background and that I can be technical?  Why do they initially assume I am not technical? 


Is it because I am a leader, a woman or just because I am new to the team?  Is this something others have to deal with on a daily basis or is it just me?


It also makes me question what does it even mean when I say “I am technical” and why do those three words “I am technical” change the way people perceive me?


Is being technical something to be proud of and does it somehow afford me a status of being able to understand difficult scientific and technology concepts? How technical do I need to be to label myself as a “techie”?  Is someone who writes blogs or articles about technology less or more technical than someone who codes APIs?


“I am technical”.  Can I claim this because I have a natural skill or ability to learn fast or can I claim this because of the experiences I have had?  If it is a natural skill or ability, then why is it surprising to others that I have this skill and ability?


If on the other hand, “I am technical” because of the experiences I have had, and because of the things I have learnt over time, then how much experience do I need to have and how much do I need to know to claim to be a “techie”?  Most of us use mobile phones and internet banking these days so does that mean that anyone and everyone can claim to be “technical”?


I don’t know the answer to any of these questions however what I do know is the reason I say “I am technical” is because I want people to assume  I do have the ability to understand and not “dumb things down for me”. 


I want people to give me a chance and value my opinions regardless of whether I have knowledge in that particular area or not.  Some of the greatest value I have seen being brought to the table is when someone asks those questions others don’t think to ask or are too scared to ask because they might be thought of as “dumb”.


 Seeing things from a different perspective has been shown time and time again to bring value which is why studies have shown we need that diversity at the table.


“A focus on behaviours that support an inclusive culture is changing the day-to-day experience for all our people. It requires our leaders to seek feedback, reflect on their biases, actively counter them and try new approaches – in every interaction and decision.”

From the 2021 Progress Report for Champions of Change


 Louise Adams Chief Operating Officer Aurecon


So how do we focus on behaviours that support this diversity at the table?  How do we create that inclusive culture?  How do we actively counter our unconscious biases? 


There is a saying …


“to ASSUME makes an ASS of yoU and ME”


I disagree.  I think we just need to start making the right assumptions.  The only way we are going to change our unconscious biases is by making different assumptions. 


Let’s start by making the assumptions the quiet person sitting in the corner has something important to say. 


Let’s start making assumptions the female in the room is the lead developer. 


Let’s start making assumptions the performing arts graduate would be an excellent technology candidate. 


Let’s start making assumptions the applicant on the spectrum is an excellent candidate to hire to complete our team. 


Let’s start making assumptions our team members and leads can be from any geographical location. 


Let’s start making assumptions anyone can learn anything regardless of their job grade, their gender, their nationality, their disabilities, their education, their age. 


Let’s all give this a try even if it is just for a couple of days or one week.  From now on I am going to consciously walk into a room, conduct meetings and interviews making assumptions to reverse my unconscious bias.  I am going to encourage others to come on this journey with me.  I am going to encourage others to stop doubting their own abilities.   


I am going to try everything in my power to be a role model to try and “break the unconscious bias” so more will join me and start making the right assumptions. 


…and I am going to stop saying “I am technical”.


Samantha Davies is a product area lead at ANZ


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