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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, STEM

Unconscious Bias: #NotTheNanny


Photo of Professor Robert Kelly being interviewed by the BBC on March 10, 2017 with family members in background.

What does a nanny look like? In the last two days, social media has been buzzing with a video of an interview between Professor Robert Kelly and a reporter from the BBC. It appears that Kelly is Skyping from his home office. He is providing comments on the scandal involving South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and a court’s decision to end her rule. Five (5) seconds into their interview, viewers see a very happy and inquisitive toddler of about three or four years of age walking thru the office door that has been left ajar. She proceeds towards Kelly who is forward facing and looking at his monitor. I do think this little one had an opinion on the topic that she was hoping to add to the conversation.

To make matters worse, about 5 seconds later as Kelly is attempting to keep the first child at bay, in pops a younger toddler in a walker with every intention of getting in on the action. It is all that Professor Kelly can do to remain calm and hope that the situation doesn’t get worse. He probably died a thousand deaths knowing that whatever is going on behind him most likely has been captured on camera for the world to see. In fact, it was the BBC reporter who alerted the professor that he was being joined by one of his children.

About 22 seconds into the conversation, an unknown female comes rushing into the room with the speed of a super hero. The terrified look says it all! Is it possible that she was watching the interview in another room and saw those cute interlopers on camera? She also knows that if the kids can be seen on camera, any attempt to retrieve them from the office will also be captured on camera. At this point, the professor can’t help but let out a subdued laugh as he attempts to stay focused on the conversation.

While this was one of those nightmares from hell that no one ever wants to be caught in, it was quite hilarious because the kids were just being themselves. At this point, you know this news clip will go viral, however, more interesting for me was the conversation that evolved afterwards about the unknown female. Many assumed that she was the nanny. My question, “Why?”

Jessica Roy of the Los Angeles Times shares that  writer Roxane Gay picked up on the assumption. Her followers protested: The woman in the video had to be hired help, because she seemed “panicked,” “terrified” and even “emotionally abused.”  From another point of view, why wouldn’t this woman be thinking to herself, “My husband and I are never going to live this down, and I still need to go and retrieve the two rug rats out of the office. Worse, I’m going to be on camera, too!”

That brings me back to my opening statement and question: What does a nanny look like?

I asked a similar question, What does a doctor look like? in the post: Unconscious Bias: Creating False Realities. In a related post, Unconscious Bias: Who Other Than Me Would You Like To Talk To?, Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s ask a similar question in the opening for her TED Talk: What does my head scarf mean to you?,  She opens her monologue by asking: “When someone who looks like me walks past you in the street, do you think they’re a mother?, a refugee? or a victim of oppression? Or do you think they’re a cardiologist? a barrister? or maybe your local politician?

Again, I ask the question, What does a nanny look like? As it turns out, the woman in the video is the professor’s wife, Jung-a Kim. And the two little tykes are their children. Is it possible that so many folks thought the wife was the nanny because of unconscious bias and stereotypes about women and Asians? The woman in the video could have been anyone: an employee of the BBC, a friend of the professor or his wife, the next door neighbor, his sister-in-law, etc.

So many were quick to draw concrete conclusions of who this unknown woman is and what she was thinking or feeling from about 30 second of watching this news video. Drawing concrete conclusions from one or two data points and sometimes no information at all happens too frequently in business and STEM. As business and STEM professionals, I’ll also remind you that there’s usually more than one potential answer to many of the questions that come our way. Let’s not be so quick to settle on the first possible answer that appears at the top of our minds based on historical stereotypes and unconscious bias.


Sources Cited:

Children hilariously interrupt dad’s live tv interview, by Jeff Tavss – Executive Producer for ABC KSAT TV Channel 12, March 10, 2017, http://www.ksat.com/news/children-hilariously-interrupt-dads-live-tv-interview

That Asian mom is not the nanny. Why do so many people assume she is?, Jessica Roy for the Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2017,  http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/that-asian-mom-is-not-the-nanny-why-do-so-many-people-assume-she-is/ar-AAo7OX9?ocid=sf


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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