Could putting a face to corporations help break down bias about them?

Published July 28, 2021, 8:58 a.m. by Sini-Maria Melanen

two women talking
It's not easy to overcome prejudices - for people or companies. Sini-Maria Melanen explains how the concept behind the Human Library could help.

Every day we are bombarded with bits and pieces of information that influence how we see the world – and the people and corporations that make it. Often, we absorb those pieces of information that reinforce our own prejudices, and rarely do we make the effort to gain a deeper understanding of the situation.

If people have strong impressions of your company, it can be difficult to change or upgrade your brand. Research shows that people are reluctant to change their minds, even when provided with evidence that tells them otherwise. Confirmation bias, the phenomenon behind this “stubbornness,” influences how we recall and interpret information. It can make us remember only that information that supports our existing beliefs and ignore details that challenge them.

Unusual encounters

But changing the way your company is seen is not completely impossible. Let’s try an experiment: What if a CEO and an average person met to discuss the realities of corporate life and helped dispel some prejudices in the process?

These kinds of conversations are actually happening all around the world in human libraries. The Human Library aims to challenge stereotypes and stigma based on such factors as race, sexual orientation or age. The concept originated in Denmark, and human libraries can now be found in 70 countries worldwide.

Human Library participants, known as “books” and “borrowers,” are usually open-minded, although not free from prejudice. I once was a book myself and was borrowed by people who wanted to know more about my background. During the experience, I was faced with tough questions. But that’s the whole point – to let different views collide. Whether as a book or a borrower, human library participants are challenged by different perspectives. The impact can be powerful, since you can gain insights that are impossible to obtain just by reading about the topic. What I found is that when you’re face to face with someone, it’s easier to avoid misunderstandings and express who you are and what really matters to you.

Behind the image

Of course, the human library concept only works if the participants are willing to listen and be open to things they cannot easily relate to. But putting a face to something you don’t understand is a huge step forward. Bringing the challenges of large companies and corporate life closer to people who work in different environments might help make them seem a little more, well, human.

Judging others based on their position in society or financial status is perhaps a less-discussed prejudice since it does not concern minorities or people in vulnerable positions. But the same kind of biases apply.

Behind the corporate image are people like you and me. People who are passionate about what they do, who want to find ways to best serve their clients, and make sustainable choices to benefit their surrounding communities while making profit. Needless to say, the corporate world is not without faults – bad practices and negligence exist. But not everything is as it might seem at the first or even the second glance.