Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Part II: Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is one that occurs outside of our conscious control. Under the umbrella of DE&I it is impossible to exclude it from the discussion. It is also something that affects us all.

“The likelihood that you will not notice your biases for and against groups is higher when you don’t have exposure to a large enough group to understand that some of your biases, some of your presumptions, some of your conclusions, are absolutely not correct” (Myers 2018).

Consider the respective environment that each of us has grown from and how it has an undeniable impact on how we see the world. We can think about these environments as our cultural lenses.

Cultural lenses play a huge part in uncovering unconscious bias because they require us as individuals, who are part of an organization, to examine our history from an objective vantage point in order to improve outcomes.

If you are part of an organization or group where the majority share the same or similar cultural lenses, you operate with a degree of safety that a minority group may not experience. As presented in the previous article in this series, this is where masking can come into play and impact an individuals’ sense of belonging and trust.

“Showing up at work without expending all of your energy to assimilate is a privilege” (Jacobs, et al. 2022).

Even in organizations where they have various programs to pull forward diversity, individuals can still be quite biased, which negatively impacts the perceived culture of the organization. Unchecked, these biases create distance between colleagues, managers, and leaders alike.

Microexclusions can be particularly nefarious at reducing inclusion. “These can be verbal, behavioral, or environmental treatment that communicate a devaluation of an individual’s contributions, and can be intentional or unintentional (Shore et al., 2018)”. Microexclusions can look different and vary greatly depending on the context but things like, assuming someone doesn’t have experience because they are younger than you, not giving someone your full attention in conversation, or cutting someone off in speech.

Leaders who can interrupt microaggressions, microexpressions, and create microaffirmations, will find trust within their teams expanded. These micro exclusions can be directly mitigated by pausing, naming the issue, disarming the heat of the moment, and educating all parties. For this to be effective it must be done in the moment (Epler, 2022).

When it comes to microaffirmations, it is important to highlight their value. They represent in the moment, positive reinforcement. These are generally smaller, but no less profound and can go a long way to improving morale and belonging within a team.

As presented by Dukach, executive Daisy Auger-Domínguez, reminds middle managers to leverage their positions. “You can create a sense of psychological safety where everyone feels confident and comfortable to take risks, make mistakes, contribute opinions, and be candid about what they are up against”(2022).

Many people learned the golden rule, unto others as you would have done unto you. But Myers poses that it is really about doing unto others as they would have done to them, suggesting that the important piece is curiosity and the release of any expectations that our own cultural lens may put on our interactions with others (2018).

References

Dukach, D. (2022, January 1). DEI gets real. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/01/dei-gets-real

Epler, M. B. (2022, January 27). Managers, here’s how to be a better ally in the remote workplace. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/01/managers-heres-how-to-be-a-better-ally-in-the-remote-workplace

Jacobs, L., Quartarone, M., & Hemingway, K. (2022, February 2). Do your diversity initiatives promote assimilation over inclusion? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/02/do-your-diversity-initiatives-promote-assimilation-over-inclusion

Myers, V. (2018). Confronting bias: thriving across our differences. LinkedIn Learning.

Shore, L. M., Cleveland, J. N., & Sanchez, D. (2018). Inclusive workplaces: A review and model. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 176–189.

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