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Leaders, Do This Before You Attempt Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

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Unconscious bias plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions, decisions, and behaviors, often without our conscious awareness, this is our psychodynamics. These biases are formed by our experiences, upbringing, cultural background, and societal influences. While they may not be intentional, unconscious biases can have profound effects on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within organizations and society as a whole.

First, unconscious bias can hinder diversity by influencing hiring and promotion decisions. People tend to be drawn to individuals who are similar to them in terms of background, experiences, and perspectives, leading to homogeneity within organizations. This lack of diversity can result in a limited range of ideas, perspectives, and approaches, ultimately stifling innovation and growth. Moreover, unconscious biases can lead to the underrepresentation of certain groups, such as women, racial minorities, and individuals from marginalized communities, perpetuating inequalities in the workplace.

Secondly, unconscious bias can affect equity by influencing how resources and opportunities are distributed within organizations. Biased attitudes and beliefs may lead to disparities in pay, access to training and development opportunities, and assignment of challenging projects. This unequal treatment can create a hostile work environment and contribute to feelings of exclusion and disengagement among marginalized groups. Furthermore, unconscious bias can manifest in microaggressions, and subtle forms of discrimination that can undermine an individual’s sense of belonging and psychological safety.

Personal challenges to DEI

Unconscious bias can impede inclusion by shaping interpersonal interactions and relationships within organizations. People tend to gravitate towards those who are similar to them, leading to the formation of cliques and exclusionary practices. This can create barriers for individuals who do not fit the dominant group’s norms and values, making it difficult for them to fully participate and contribute. Furthermore, unconscious bias can lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice, which can result in discriminatory behavior and attitudes towards certain groups.

To address the impact of unconscious bias on DEI, organizations must implement strategies to raise awareness, promote accountability, and foster inclusivity. One approach is to provide training and education on unconscious bias, helping employees recognize and challenge their implicit biases. This can include workshops, seminars, and online resources that explore the science of bias and its implications for decision-making. By increasing awareness, organizations can empower employees to mitigate the influence of bias in their day-to-day interactions and decisions.

What to do differently

Organizations can implement policies and procedures to promote fairness and equity in hiring, promotion, and resource allocation processes. This can include establishing diverse hiring panels, implementing blind recruitment practices, and conducting regular audits to identify and address disparities. Additionally, organizations can create mentorship and sponsorship programs to support the development and advancement of underrepresented groups, providing them with access to opportunities and guidance to succeed.

Moreover, organizations must foster an inclusive culture where all employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. This can involve promoting diversity in leadership positions, celebrating cultural and identity differences, and creating opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration and dialogue. By fostering an inclusive environment, organizations can harness the collective talents and perspectives of their workforce, driving innovation, and competitive advantage.

Unconscious bias poses significant challenges to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within organizations. By understanding the effects of bias and implementing strategies to mitigate its negative effects, organizations can create more equitable and inclusive workplaces where all employees can thrive. Through education, accountability, and fostering an inclusive culture, organizations can overcome the barriers posed by unconscious bias and build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.

Next Steps

Understanding our unconscious biases is a critical step in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations and society. Unconscious biases are deeply ingrained attitudes and stereotypes that influence our perceptions, decisions, and behaviors without conscious awareness. Recognizing and addressing these biases is essential for creating more equitable and inclusive environments where all individuals can thrive. 

1. Self-reflection: The first step in understanding our unconscious biases is to engage in self-reflection. This involves examining our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to identify any patterns or tendencies that may indicate the presence of bias. Taking the time to reflect on our beliefs and experiences can help us uncover unconscious biases that may be influencing our perceptions and interactions with others.

2. Educate ourselves: Educating ourselves about unconscious bias is essential for gaining a deeper understanding of how it operates and its impact on individuals and communities. There are many resources available, including books, articles, videos, and online courses, that explore the science of bias and strategies for addressing it. By seeking out information and learning from experts in the field, we can develop the knowledge and awareness necessary to recognize and challenge our unconscious biases.

3. Engage in perspective-taking: Perspective-taking involves putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and considering their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This involves ourselves asking, “What don’t I know?”  This can help us gain insight into how our actions and decisions may be influenced by unconscious biases and how they may impact others. Actively seeking out diverse perspectives and engaging in empathy-building exercises can help us develop greater awareness and understanding of the experiences of people from different backgrounds and identities.

4. Seek feedback: Seeking feedback from others can provide valuable insights into our unconscious biases and how they may be perceived by others. Asking for feedback from colleagues, friends, and mentors about our behavior and interactions can help us identify blind spots and areas for growth. It’s important to approach feedback with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow from the insights provided.

5. Examine decision-making processes: Examining our decision-making processes can help us uncover unconscious biases that may be influencing our choices. This includes reflecting on how we evaluate information, make judgments, and allocate resources. By critically examining our decision-making processes, we can identify areas where biases may be operating and take steps to mitigate their impact.

6. Challenge stereotypes and assumptions: Stereotypes and assumptions are often the result of unconscious biases and can lead to unfair and discriminatory treatment of others. Challenging stereotypes and assumptions involves questioning our preconceived notions about individuals and groups and actively seeking out evidence that contradicts them. By challenging stereotypes and assumptions, we can develop more nuanced and accurate perceptions of others and reduce the influence of unconscious bias on our thoughts and behaviors.

7. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help us become more aware of our unconscious biases and their influence on our perceptions and behaviors. By cultivating mindfulness, we can develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, enabling us to recognize and regulate our responses to bias-inducing stimuli.

8. Take action: Finally, it’s essential to take action to address unconscious bias and promote DEI within our organizations and communities. This may involve advocating for policies and practices that promote fairness and equity, challenging discriminatory behavior and attitudes when we encounter them, and actively supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives. By taking proactive steps to address unconscious bias, we can create more inclusive environments where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

Understanding our unconscious biases is a critical step in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations and society. By engaging in self-reflection, educating ourselves, seeking feedback, examining decision-making processes, challenging stereotypes and assumptions, practicing mindfulness, and taking action, we can develop the awareness and skills necessary to recognize and address unconscious bias effectively. By doing so, we can create more equitable and inclusive environments where all individuals have the opportunity to thrive.

Exercise | Deliberate practice

Grab your journal and start taking notes about yourself. I recently was invited to submit one of my paintings to a national painting exhibition. The day before the awards were presented I went to the gallery studied the judge’s work and picked 10 pieces of art that I thought would win awards. Six out of the 10 pieces won awards. How did I do this you ask? By studying the judge’s style I was able to identify repeating subtleties in their work like color palette, the use of light, and the layering of colors. I looked for paintings that possessed these characteristics. These approaches to our art become an unconscious habit or style that we as artists develop over time. These are the styles that help us to identify a painting of a particular artist without ever seeing their name.   

As leaders, we develop unconscious habits or biases that secretly influence our decisions. Take a look at these eight approaches to understanding our own unconscious biases. Pick one or two and start practicing them. As you develop a better understanding of yourself pick another one. One of the most powerful things you can do is to continually educate yourself. 

1. Self-reflection: The first step in understanding our unconscious biases is to engage in self-reflection. This involves examining our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to identify any patterns or tendencies that may indicate the presence of bias. Taking the time to reflect on our beliefs and experiences can help us uncover unconscious biases that may be influencing our perceptions and interactions with others.

2. Educate ourselves: Educating ourselves about unconscious bias is essential for gaining a deeper understanding of how it operates and its impact on individuals and communities. There are many resources available, including books, articles, videos, and online courses, that explore the science of bias and strategies for addressing it. By seeking out information and learning from experts in the field, we can develop the knowledge and awareness necessary to recognize and challenge our unconscious biases.

3. Engage in perspective-taking: Perspective-taking involves putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and considering their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This involves ourselves asking, “what don’t I know?”  This can help us gain insight into how our actions and decisions may be influenced by unconscious biases and how they may impact others. Actively seeking out diverse perspectives and engaging in empathy-building exercises can help us develop greater awareness and understanding of the experiences of people from different backgrounds and identities.

4. Seek feedback: Seeking feedback from others can provide valuable insights into our unconscious biases and how they may be perceived by others. Asking for feedback from colleagues, friends, and mentors about our behavior and interactions can help us identify blind spots and areas for growth. It’s important to approach feedback with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow from the insights provided.

5. Examine decision-making processes: Examining our decision-making processes can help us uncover unconscious biases that may be influencing our choices. This includes reflecting on how we evaluate information, make judgments, and allocate resources. By critically examining our decision-making processes, we can identify areas where biases may be operating and take steps to mitigate their impact.

6. Challenge stereotypes and assumptions: Stereotypes and assumptions are often the result of unconscious biases and can lead to unfair and discriminatory treatment of others. Challenging stereotypes and assumptions involves questioning our preconceived notions about individuals and groups and actively seeking out evidence that contradicts them. By challenging stereotypes and assumptions, we can develop more nuanced and accurate perceptions of others and reduce the influence of unconscious bias on our thoughts and behaviors.

7. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help us become more aware of our unconscious biases and their influence on our perceptions and behaviors. By cultivating mindfulness, we can develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, enabling us to recognize and regulate our responses to bias-inducing stimuli.

8. Take action: Finally, it’s essential to take action to address unconscious bias and promote DEI within our organizations and communities. This may involve advocating for policies and practices that promote fairness and equity, challenging discriminatory behavior and attitudes when we encounter them, and actively supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives. By taking proactive steps to address unconscious bias, we can create more inclusive environments where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.   

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