My husband and I live in the San Francisco Bay area and we are huge 49ers fans. If you follow the NFL, you may know about our team’s recent quarterback woes. Injuries have sidelined both our starting QB Trey Lance and our former starting QB and backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and rookie Brock Purdy has stepped into the role. Purdy was drafted by San Francisco with the very last pick in the 2022 draft, a position which caused many to label him “Mr. Irrelevant.” Yet in his short tenure as the starter, he has played incredibly well, leading the team to victory each time and solidifying our spot in the playoffs.
Unconscious Bias Parallels
Why am I sharing this with you? Because as I have watched this unfold, I see the parallel to the issue of bias in the workplace and a reminder of why DE&I is so important. Bear with me, I will explain!
It would be a stretch to say that Brock’s situation is on par with the more egregious examples of discrimination that are still all too common in the working world. Purdy is not a member of any traditionally marginalized class. He does not suffer from being judged less competent or being overlooked in hiring and promotions because of race, gender, sexuality, etc. But I think his story is a good example of how unconscious bias is pervasive in our world. It is an example of how anyone can have a preconceived idea of what the ideal candidate for a job looks like, and how unconscious bias can influence decisions and lead to missed opportunities for genuine success with a good candidate who doesn’t fit the mold.
Purdy’s low draft position meant that many coaches, fans, sports pundits and other “experts” dismissed the idea that he could be successful. The first reaction when he was made the starter was generally that the Niners’ season was done. Critics said Purdy didn’t have the arm strength, wasn’t tall enough, as fast as others, or have the fancier resume of college success – all the things that NFL scouts use to judge players. Yet look what has happened! Dismissed until he had the chance to play, he has proven those assumptions wrong.
Diverse Teams are Winning Teams
I realize that the NFL is a very unique industry, but the parallels to our industry are similar. Have you or the company you work for ever been overlooked because it wasn’t big enough? Or not a recognized brand name? Or not in business for a million years like the top 10 in your industry? I can assure you it has happened to ATR, and it is frustrating! We work with Fortune 100 financial institutions and some of the largest telecommunication and pharmaceutical companies now, but it has sometimes been a struggle to get a chance to be considered.
The prevailing wisdom assumes that “height” and “arm strength” are the only predictors of success that matter, deeming smaller companies Mr. Irrelevant. This is in spite of the fact that there is ample evidence that success comes in all shapes and sizes. In fact, it’s proven that greatest success comes from diversity. Purdy has been successful because he has found ways to play well and score without the 5-star attributes the head office looks for. Former coaches have mentioned his ability to avoid a sack and make the play. Others have talked about his leadership qualities and competitive drive.
The fact is that for the 49s this year, Lance, Garappolo, and Purdy have all been winners. Each has brought something special and useful to the game, and the team is better for it. The success of the team under all three leaders should be a big reminder that these biases hurt not just the individual but the team overall. If we don’t understand and appreciate our differences and see them as strengths rather than weaknesses, we are hurting our own chances for a winning team, as well as the chances for those individuals who are overlooked and left out. Give an underdog a chance and they will deliver!
This is why I am so committed to the ideals and mission of DE&I at ATR. Hiring a diverse team and working with diverse suppliers of all sizes run by people from different backgrounds is the right thing to do not because of pity or mandates or a desire to fix past wrongs, but simply because it leads to greater success for everyone. An inclusive welcoming workplace shouldn’t be a goal just so that you can check a box or avoid a lawsuit. It should be a goal because it leads to more innovation, better products, more profits, and, ultimately, a winning team! Equity is not a handout; it’s a recipe for a more successful society for everyone. I hope that more and more people recognize that.
Here’s to a great and more equitable 2023 for everyone!