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Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Taking A Look In The Mirror

In 2018, there were only 24 female CEO’s in all of the Fortune 500 companies. Although, recent research by Zenger/Folkman shows that women have a higher competency level than men in most leadership skills. So, where is the disconnect? Why are women not using their skills as leaders in leadership roles? The conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are happening but the statistics show a lack of action. How do our organizations step into action and start making impactful change in our places of work?

We need to start with ourselves, we need to take a look in the mirror.

Organizations can hire diverse employees and talk about their plan to close the wage gap within their organizations day in and day out, but there is a missing link to the success of these diversity, equity, and inclusion plans. One of these missing links is the acknowledgement of our unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes, prejudice, or unsupported judgements that are automatic and unintentional. Our unconscious biases have the ability to influence our behavior in ways that either benefit certain people or penalize them.

Our organizations can hire a diverse workforce, but if our leaders are managing under the pretense of unconscious biases these diverse employees have less of an opportunity to grow within the organization. Within your organization are promotions being given to individuals that look like the leaders? Are your leaders giving feedback to employees based on unconscious bias? Are the leaders within your organization passing off the ‘big’ projects to the same people every time? These are common workplace behaviors that hinder the success of creating an equal opportunity work environment.

Unconscious bias is something that we all experience, but when it is acknowledged we can start to unveil our biases and start taking action in creating successful diversity, equity, and inclusion programs creating equal opportunity for all employees!

But, how do we do it?

First things first, start with the face looking back at you in the mirror and start asking them to change their ways. As you take a look at that face in the mirror, start walking through the following four steps.

Step 1: Engage in self-reflection.

Take a hard look at how YOU work within your team.

Who are you engaging with daily? 
If you are a leader of your team, how are you passing off projects? 
Are you giving certain projects to just a handful of your team members? And if so, who are you giving those projects to and why? 
How are you giving feedback to your team? Is it a different conversation between certain individuals on your team? If so, why?
Are you giving more detailed opportunist feedback to certain people and not to others? 
Who are you spending your time with outside of work? 
Who are you building those deeper relationships with? 
Do you see yourself unconsciously (or consciously) leaving some team members out of your ‘circle’?

The answers to these questions are here to help you identify your behaviors and how you are engaging with your team. The answers to these questions can unveil if you are making decisions based on unconscious bias.

Step 2: Identify your story.

You have unveiled a few of your workplace behaviors, now it is time to identify your why. The actions you are making at work and beyond (unconscious or conscious) are learned behaviors due to past experiences. From the behaviors you have identified in step one, take a moment to look at your past experiences and identify why you are using these behaviors.

Did you see your parents act this way? 
Did you see your last manager act this way? 
Did you see others find success in these behaviors?

It is important to identify why you are choosing to make the decisions that you are. Without identifying your internal story and defining your why it will be extremely challenging to change your behaviors. The unveiling of your story will allow you to change your unconscious behaviors into conscious decisions.

Step 3: Separate your story from facts.

Your story matters, your past has made you who you are, and identifying your story allows for growth. From the past experiences that you identified above, understand that these experiences are emotional. From those emotional experiences, start to look for research that challenges your experience. Data and research is here to help us move away from basing decisions from our emotional experience and helps us make decisions based on factual evidence.

Step 4: Communicate your story, and ask for others to share theirs.

We learn from each other, definitely when it comes to uncomfortable conversations such as owning our unconscious bias. Although, without these uncomfortable conversations we will not grow.

Communicate the story you have identified and encourage others within your organization to do the same. Share these stories with a diverse group of individuals. Listen intently to their story. Listen for feedback, create actionable goals together, and start changing your behaviors to build inclusivity.

Extra Credit: Stay accountable.

This process doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and it takes peeling back the layers of who you are and why you make the choices you do. It takes being extremely self-reflective, constantly. So, find a community that will help you stay accountable through the process. Work together, make mistakes, and keep one another accountable for change.

The work of unveiling your unconscious bias is not easy. Taking a hard look at the human in the mirror and holding yourself accountable for change is tough work! But, without identifying your unconscious bias it will be nearly impossible to reach your organizations diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

Be ready to feel uncomfortable and make mistakes. As Brené Brown says, change only happens when we are curious. Be curious about why you are making the behavioral choices you are and then make that change to build equal opportunity within your organization!

Cheers to change!

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