Weekly, I get a Word Fact via email from Dictionary.com that challenges my knowledge and understanding of the English language. Here are a few Word Fact examples that ask the reader to identify the correct usage of these words: fewer vs less, who vs whom, it’s vs its, that vs which, etc. Word Fact has proven to be useful for me for this blog as well as other written projects and activities.
I plan to suggest that the editors include these two words – some and all – for a future Word Fact exercise. Proper usage of each when describing numerical quantities in business, STEM, and just about every other sector is important. Second, improper usage of either word when discussing numbers that relate to culture, ethnicity, gender, and politics has proven to be problematic for the masses, and can lead to incorrect statements and misrepresentation of data and other information.
First, a quick review (Source: Dictionary.com) of the English usage of some and all. Some can be used as an adjective, pronoun, or adverb:
- Adjective: some refers to an undetermined or unspecified amount or number.
- Pronoun: certain persons, individuals, instances, , not specified.
- Adverb: (when used with numbers and with words expressing degree, extent, etc.) approximately, about. Informal usage: to some degree or extent.
Similarly, all can be used as an adjective, pronoun, noun, or adverb:
- Adjective: the whole of, the greatest possible, every, etc.
- Pronoun: the whole quantity or amount, every one, everything
- Noun: one’s whole interest, or property, the entire universe
- Adverb: wholly, entirely, completely,
As a STEM professional who frequently performs data analysis and an author of technical and non-technical documents, I am cautious to provide the most accurate review or interpretation of information and numbers to the best of my abilities. I would like to think that others do the same. Examples 1 and 2 show the difference between an estimate or summation of less than the whole (some) and everything (all).
A bigger issue for me is the way that all is used in the media, in political discussions, and commentaries to reinforce a desired idea or outcome, and to stereotypically describe gender or race-related topics. As candidates throw their hats into the ring for the upcoming 2016 presidential election, I cringe at the thought of some of the rhetoric, hype, and accusations that will be put forth as factual to win votes.
The same is true in business and STEM segments of the U.S. population. Those generalities that are formed about gender, race, and politics also enter the work place with the people that come and go each day. Here are some examples of comments that can be heard in today’s work place:
- All women are emotional.
- Men are smarter than women.
- You can’t trust a Jewish person.
- All blacks are lazy.
- I don’t trust anyone who does not agree with me.
- All Muslims are terrorists.
- With the exception of Asians, non-whites do not do well on standardized tests.
- Asians are hard-workers.
- All religious folks are zealots and narrow-minded.
- All Democrats support gun control and all Republicans are crooks.
Is applying a label to an employee important? If it is, why? These exclusionary and judgmental comments take shape in many ways, but ultimately may lead to the formation of biased and incorrect opinions about one or more individuals in the workplace. These thoughts are learned and are embedded in the very fiber of who we are, how we think, and operate. This is called unconscious bias.
Many definitions are provided for unconscious bias. Here’s one I like: “Unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us and come from backgrounds similar to ours. Everyone likes to think he or she is open-minded and objective, but research has shown that the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves.” [Ref 1]
In a recent conversation with a friend, we both concluded that if one has a narrow view of life and how this country and the rest of the world operates, most likely that person also has a narrow view of politics.
“The problem with unconscious bias is that unconsciously we divide the world into the world of “US” and the world of “THEM” distancing others that are different from us just because they fit into a certain category or group that exist only in our minds. “ [Ref 2] Applying this definition to today’s workplace ensures that the status quo/business as usual model will continue. This includes not using all of the valuable talent and human resources available to meet program and organizational goals and objectives.
In closing, expect to see future posts on the topics of unconscious bias, us vs them, and the difficulties of having a conversation on race in America. Until then, consider what biases you bring to the workplace. Do you operate with a high level of stereotypes? Are they real? Or do you make them real in your mind? Challenge your biases and give them frequent workouts.
1. How unconscious bias holds us back, Trang Chu, Women in Leadership in The Guardian, May 1, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2014/may/01/unconscious-bias-women-holding-back-work
2. “Workplace Diversity: What is Unconscious Bias & How to manage it?” Sahar Andrade, Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Consultant, Sahar Consulting, LLC, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140618145805-35065017-workplace-diversity-what-is-unconscious-bias-how-to-manage-it