Laurie Swanson Blog

The Subtle Ways of Bias

For Christmas, my husband had asked for a new blanket for our bed.

Conveniently, my mom called me to say she needed one more gift for my husband and I suggested the blanket. She said that was a great idea and she would give me that for my birthday, which happens to be December 26th, but did I have another idea for my husband?


Calling Out My Mom

I asked my mom what was wrong with the blanket idea. Did she think that a blanket was not a good gift for a guy who is not a bachelor? Did she think that a blanket was a gift for the wife but not the husband?

She was flabbergasted….at herself.

My mom, who let me miss school to march for the Equal Rights Amendment in our state capital back in the 1970’s. FYI-she NEVER let me miss school unless I was at death’s door.

My mom, who read the OB/GYN the riot act when we went to get me birth control and he refused.

My mom, who has been outspoken from Day 1 about the importance of Title IV.

Yet, she had not even noticed her gender-biased thinking. That is how subtle bias can be.

Guess who opened the blanket on Christmas morning?



When talking about this with my sister Katie, she mentioned a conference she went to where the key note was Lynne Doughtie, the first female CEO at KPMG.

An inspiring female leader and role model.

Lynne talked about a time she got on a plane and caught herself wondering if the two women pilots would be as capable as male pilots. She had never flown with two female pilots before and her unconscious bias reared its head.

Here is a link to more on Lynne and Unconscious bias: {Link}.

Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue

What I have come to realize is that there are many ways that we, men and women, perpetuate bias without realizing it. It is part of our culture, the town we grew up in, the people who raised us, the media we watch, the books we read. These all build our biases.

You may have heard the story of Jane Elliott, third-grade teacher, but it bears repeating.  In response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane devised the controversial and startling, "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise.

This, now famous, exercise labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the color of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority.

Many of the blue-eyed participants were shocked at their own reactions to what for many of them was the new experience of being powerless. Many of the brown-eyed participants were shocked at how easy they found it to go along with what was happening even though they knew it was wrong. (Read more at

Bias is Subtle and Awareness is Required

If you or someone you know is going to have the courage to step up for the big things, think #metoo, we need to start to step up in the smaller “does that really matter” stuff as well. Because it does matter.

We all have the power to affect change around bias in all its many flavors: gender, economic/financial, educational, religious, race, political, age, cultural, geographic, sexuality, physical/disability etc.

Laurie's Stop Bias Awareness Exercise

This requires you to raise awareness about your own biases and then do something about it.

Call yourself out.

Give your kids, your parents, your spouse, your friends  permission to call you out as well.

Rewind your bias thoughts and actions and do something, anything, differently.

Try This:  

  • If you would not say it to your son then don’t say it to your daughter (and vice-versa):  
    • Ex: Daughter can you help me with dinner? Son, can you bring up that heavy box from the basement
  • Call me by my name:
    • Ex: Check the titles you give to people. Instead of mail man say mail carrier, instead of fireman use fire fighter, instead of stewardess replace it with flight attendant.  
  • Take the Implicit Bias quiz at
  • Leader Up-Are you a leader in your organization? If so, review your salaries and fix any inequities, check your gifting-is there bias in your choices for what you give to whom, plan a Stop Bias Awareness event.
We can all lead the way to stopping bias in our lives and at our organizations.

If you are ready to put a stop to a salary bias you may be experiencing then give me a call. Let’s get you that job you deserve at the money you command.  Call me at 630/260-7821 or email me at

More About This Month's Meme

#1 -- Charles Curtis

  • In 1923, Senator Curtis, together with fellow Kansan, Representative Daniel Anthony, Jr, proposed the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution to each of their Houses. The amendment did not go forward.
  • He was the only Native American to hold the post of Vice-President, as well as the first person of acknowledged non-European ancestry. Curtis decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.
  • He was 69 when he took office, making him the oldest incoming Vice-President at the time.
  • Curtis employed a woman as secretary to the Vice President, instead of the customary man, thereby scoring another minor first. Lola M. Williams, who had been working for Curtis for some time, was one of the first women to enter the Senate floor, traditionally a male monopoly.

#2 -- Adam Goodes

  • 4-time, All-Australian football player
  • Australian of the Year in 2014
  • In May 2013 a 13-year-old girl called him an ape. He had her security remove her from the game. The team president later apologized as did the girl stating “she did not know that was a racial slur”. Goodes called on the community to support the young girl though he had “never been more hurt”.  
  • In 2015, he founded a foundation to stop racism.  You can find out more at:  Racism.  It Stops With Me.

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Don't it Make my Brown Eyes Blue

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