When I say “unconscious bias” what do you immediately think of?

I’m pretty sure it will be related to the Black lives matter movement which is running a fabulous campaign at the moment.

They’ve used unconscious bias as a way to make everyone aware of thoughts and opinions that are so deeply ingrained in them that they don’t even realise that they are making judgments and decisions based on these ideas.  When these ideas are highlighted to them people are horrified that they acted as they did or thought what they thought.

But did you know that unconscious bias isn’t just about racism, it’s there at so many levels and layers of thinking about a person in all walks of life?

When you meet someone for the first time you make an instant opinion about them without realising why – it could be what they’re wearing, or their hair, their posture etc.  Quite likely if you got to know them you’d change that opinion, but for the first instant you formed this opinion of them.  How did your brain form this opinion – it’s mostly unconscious bias due to perceived ideas about what a person is like if they dress in a particular way or speak in a certain way.  Also when meeting someone for the first time and you find out what job they do you can also form this type of unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

UK Coaching defines it as:

Unconscious bias (sometimes called implicit bias) is the name for the unprompted snap judgements and  assessments of people and situations that we make. This happens involuntarily, without us noticing or realising.

These snap judgements and assessments (biases) are influenced by our background, cultural environment, personal experiences and societal stereotypes. We may not even be aware we have some of these views or opinions, let alone how they can affect our behaviour and actions.

I’ve experienced this sort of unconscious bias from people when they talk to me.  I’ve seen eyes glaze over when they hear I do reflexology as a full time job, not really knowing what it is that my job entails nor what my background is, it's just absolute lack of respect and rudeness.  Equally I've experienced unconscious bias in a positive way when I used to be employed and went for certain job interviews.  Obviously I dressed professionally and spoke clearly, that combined with my education and my ethnicity seemed to put a positive slant on it - many believe that East African Asians are hard working, don't complain and fully compliant!!

The work side all comes from unconscious bias stemming back into history where complementary therapies was thought of as something wishy-washy or hippy-dippy that someone did as a hobby.  With beauty it was about the little woman needing to earn some pocket money while gossiping with the girls - neither industry thought of as professional or important.

Sadly this idea of both industries has remained with many people, including it would seem the current government and their advisors.  They may not even realise that they are forming these old opinions based on old facts – they are biased without realising it.

That brings me neatly to the present situation with the government opening up different industries to work again.  The complementary therapies and beauty industry have been pushed further and further down the ladder in terms of importance and have even been laughed at during Prime minister's question time (yes, really - it was on 1st July 2020)..  Sadly, this sort of behaviour isn’t anything new to us, but we did expect better from those who are supposed to be leading our country.  I understand if the reasoning for not opening the industries up fully sooner was based totally on safety and that went across the board with all industries, but it didn't and we were all bombarded with images of street parties following the opening of pubs and barbers not wearing the right PPE doing face treatments.  Beauty therapists have been warned of a 2 year prison sentence if they did the same sort of face treatment!

In my opinion the reason for this total lack of respect and disregard for our businesses stems from unconscious bias.  We are women doing what is seen as a woman’s job - and that means to some people it's not at all important.

Yes, what we offer isn’t a medical necessity in the way doctors and nurses (and other frontline workers) are, but we do offer a service that many of our clients feel is necessary for their mental well-being – which many times can be crucial.  In the same way as having your hair done, socialising with friends at a bar or restaurant etc.

I've obviously focused on one aspect of unconscious bias in this post, but it does show in so many different ways throughout our lives.  People just need to recognise it for what it is and if someone else sees this they should call the other person out for it so that they are aware.

Complementary Therapies vs Beauty Therapy

 

I've also sadly seen this sort of unconscious bias in the way of hierarchy and derogatory talk about the beauty industry coming from various non-medical people are are in similar lines of work, including complementary therapies.

 

With lockdown and allowing anyone working in close contact work the complementary therapies industry was put into the same group as the beauty industry (and gym, clubs and sex workers!!) and there has been some very derogatory terms and statements made about this from some complementary therapists over the past week or so.

For me this is not ok – and is a form of snobbery and bias.

 

Saying in annoyance something like “can’t believe we’ve been lumped in with beauty, we’re so much more” or similar suggests that being likened to the beauty industry is something less than us or beneath us.  It isn’t less, it’s just different.

The beauty industry is not some frivolous little job that is done by untalented or unskilled workers (and that would be ok even if it was) – it’s a huge industry that is one of the highest employers in the UK and brings in far more money than complementary therapies does.

They also have much more strength and sway in both the media and policy – it’s due to the public profile and media action of many beauty therapists that the government did this sudden U-turn on allowing us to work from 13th July and I think this should also be acknowledged.  Many of the beauty therapists have trained hard for years and keep up with CPD, same as us.  In fact we are not all that different and there are many cross overs where they offer massages and reflexology – and some complementary therapists offer facials/face massages, natural manicures etc.   Yes, lots of us complementary therapists have trained hard and done lots of work.  For me I have a science degree and endless complementary therapies diplomas and CPDs as well as teaching, so it could be very easy for me to turn around to you or others and say I’m more important than you – but I don’t because it isn’t true.  This sort of attitude from some complementary therapists is akin to how a few in the medical world look down at us, and we don’t like that do we?

We are all in this together and I believe that we’ll achieve far more supporting each other rather than trying to show how much more or how much better we are compared to them.  Please reconsider these ideas that the beauty industry is lower than the complementary therapies industry, because it isn’t.

I try to live as I expect – which is to show understanding, compassion and try to be kind.

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