Labels do matter

Many faces of Bias


Made in Assumptions

The Many Faces of Bias

It’s hard to talk about bias and discrimination. Each of us has been on both sides plenty of times. Possibly, or probably, many times without even noticing.

At Google, I have felt bias on the basis of social class, nationality, geekiness level, race and gender. Yet, I can wholeheartedly say, that I loved working there and it was almost always amazing. Being surrounded by great people, kind, smart and driven is a luxury. A unique opportunity and a privilege. I am humbled by the time I spent there and the people I worked with. That makes it even harder to write about this. Despite all this beauty, there were some thorns on this rose.


Social Class bias was difficult to identify because it had never crossed my mind that it would still be a thing. It was clear that my surname was “mainstream” rather than “famous”, unlike many others in the office. I couldn’t care less about other people’s family status and surnames. Thus, it took me a long time for the “penny to drop” and realise this could be an issue. I can’t prove it, obviously. Still, episodes like “Who are you to think” and “People like you should be put on a boat and set on fire” made me wonder.


Nationality was far less harmful but still there. We were part of the Region 3, a group of countries that included Portugal, France, Spain and Italy”. The Portuguese folks were the serious, boring ones, that were always very quiet. Now, for many reasons, we were indeed a quiet bunch. We would often be the first ones complaining about the noise in the open office set up. Still, covered in little jokes and amusing bickering, I was sometimes reminded of my “grumpy label”. It didn’t bother me but that was not necessarily the case for everyone. Later on, I came to think of it when learning more about Bias and the concept of Death by a Thousand Cuts. Too many small discomforts and annoyances can accumulate. And one day, at a “little thing”, you realise you had enough and walk out or sink down. Not pretty.


Geekiness was an interesting one because it’s more vague than others. I remember some people in the Marketing team who wanted to celebrate the pi day on the 14th of March globally. I sent out a message to everyone saying I didn’t believe that was appropriate. That date only applies in countries with Month/Day format 3(March).14(Day) but not elsewhere. In Europe a more appropriate day would be 22nd of July. The reaction was clear: my geekiness level was admirable. They said the audience (people who care about pi) would probably notice this. While we dodged a bullet on this one, it also strengthened the idea that I was the nerd amongst non-nerds. Whenever there was a project or question around developers, engineering or other “tech stuff”, they would think of me. The funny thing is, once I actually moved to Engineering, I was the non geek amongst geeks. I couldn’t actually code and build software like the others. That was, for some, a clear disadvantage – and I was often reminded of it. And, on the flip side, I was often asked for support on “soft things” like conflict remediation or adding a “user perspective” to a discussion.


On Race, I have felt very little but, reality is, there was not a lot of diversity in that regard. I do remember being asked if I also needed to wear sunscreen. I found it hilarious and confusing at the time. This came from someone from the North of Europe while I come from the South of Europe. So, indeed, I have darker hair and eye colour. It had never crossed my mind that I could be considered of another race. The definition of race is quite fuzzy though. Go figure. I did miss and wish there had been more diversity in my teams. If we were serving global users, it made a lot of sense to have global teams. Having most people looking “just like me” seemed a bit poor in terms of perspectives.


Finally, gender. I only felt that for a short time. It was tough. I was disrespected, dismissed, offended and pressured way more than I thought I could endure. I tried different doors for support, not all worked, unfortunately. You know, it is a big company. No matter how low the percentage of idiots is, if you stay there long enough, you will eventually bump into one. And this was a true idiot. Forget about enjoying work – this was far worse: it broke my sense of self confidence and of being safe at work. But then I gathered my guts and tried again to get some support – and I got it. I received fast, clear and meaningful support. And what seemed like an honest embarrassment from the company, that I had to experience this.
And all this gave me a rich perspective on the topic. Knowing that it can take many shapes, from the smallest and most subtle to the harshest. That it is not just the classic man-woman bias but so much more. Finally, I became an Ambassador in the company for dealing with Unconscious Bias at the workplace. From recruitment to work performance and retention, Bias can make it or break it.

The lessons for me are clear: be kind, see the person beyond the label, ask yourself if you are making the right choice, find and own your own space and voice.

If you are facing tough situations like these at work, coaching might help you find the best way to approach it. I would love to help you so if you are interested, visit me at Coaching for Me or just email me at

If you are a manager and want to make sure you bring your teams to their best, visit me at Coaching for Work for coaching, team initiatives and Professional Assessments. You can also just email me at