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Understanding how our identities influence our perception of the world
I am biased, but then as humans, we are all biased. This isn’t bad in itself because biases are simple shortcuts we have in our brains. The problem arises when our biases impact our behavior against groups of people.
Being a married, Asian, abled, college-educated, heterosexual male who lives in California are identities that shape the unique lens through which I see and experience the world.
We all pick up identities throughout our lives which become our positionality. Positionality is the context that creates our identity and how that identity influences or biases how we experience and interact with the world.
Our work is shaped by what we know, and what we know is shaped by who we are and what we have experienced in our lives.
Positionality refers to the multiple identities we hold, such as:
and many more!
These identities influence our perception of the world and enable the privileges we are afforded, which can lead to conscious and unconscious biases that appear in the products we design.
“If you are human, you are biased.”
Howard J. Ross
How might we surface our potential bias?
In research, positionality statements convey where a person is "coming from." It identifies the intersecting identities that make them who they are and how their identities combine to shape and influence their perspectives regarding a topic or an issue.
Here is an example of a positionality statement:
I am a 45-year-old white male living in the United States. I hold a Ph.D. in Anthropology and have been working in the field for the past 20 years. I recognize my position as a privileged white male and my access to resources which are not available to everyone. In order to bring a more comprehensive view to my research, I strive to be humble and mindful of my privilege and seek to actively listen to those with a different lived experience.
As you can see, the positionality statement surfaces fundamental identities that could influence our ideas, decisions, biases, and privileges.
When we are open about our positionality, we can identify where our biases may be and consciously work to fill the gaps to build inclusive and respectful products.
Would you be open to sharing your positionality statement with your team?
There is an opportunity for those of us designing and building digital products to consider our positionality and even share our positionality statements with the teams and the people we design for right from the start to put everything on the table.
Reflecting on our positionality can help us:
Know and accept we have bias and begin recognizing our own patterns of thinking.
Become empowered to change how we think and challenge harmful biases we may hold.
Lead with compassion and empathy for the people we build products for.
Become aware of our perspectives, beliefs, and underlying assumptions that may shape our biases.
Ensure that our work is respectful, intentional, and inclusive of the people we work with and create products and experiences for.
Share our commitment to ethics, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
Becoming aware of our positionality is a great first step in helping us reduce our bias, then if you’re comfortable with sharing your positionality statement together with your team is a great next step to identify gaps in diversity and to surface them and keep bias from creeping into the products we build.
What’s your take?
Let me know your thoughts on the topic of positionality. I always love hearing from my readers.