Now What?! How to Begin Tackling Harmful Implicit Bias

21 Apr Now What?! How to Begin Tackling Harmful Implicit Bias

“To know the true reality of yourself, you must be aware not only of your conscious thoughts, but also of your unconscious prejudices, bias and habits.” -Unknown

You’ve just spent thousands of dollars on that new ad campaign, recruiting that fantastic employee, or retaining your top performers, and for some reason it all keeps falling apart. Implicit bias can slowly rot your firm culture or in one fail swoop create a PR nightmare (ahem, Pepsi). I continually get asked – “okay, we know implicit bias is a problem, now, what do we do about it!?”

This question is tougher to answer than it might seem. As process consultants we perform an initial assessment with our clients to really understand their challenges in order to create custom trainings. This “listening” phase is an essential step to untangle the specific implicit biases, and the negative behaviors and decisions they can leave in their wake.

However, I can say, we almost always integrate three fundamentals that might help your firm start the conversation.

  1. Separate Out Shame- Shame and blame are blocks to awareness, learning, and healthy conversations. As members of society we have been trained since we were small to sort and categorize individual characteristics in particular way. So, when looking at biases we often get resistance in the form of: “being biased (racist, sexist, etc.) is bad, I’m a good person, so therefore I’m not biased.” I believe you, and believe this is societal – not a personal affront to you as an individual. We have to remember humans are an incredibly efficient species because our brain is excellent at putting items in categories. It does this so we don’t have to waste energy thinking about them when we can be spending that energy doing more useful things. This helps us in many ways (do you remember brushing your teeth this morning or just used the time to think about your first meeting or that looming deadline?). When we do work around unconscious bias and the inequalities that result, we must bring these biases to our awareness. Only then can we tackle the work needed to create a more equitable environment. As always, we must support this work with compassion, caring, and understanding in order to move forward with healthy conversations.
  2. Establish Motivation- “What is motivating me/us to tackle this work?” As individuals and organizations, it’s essential to answer this question first. I’m not going to beat around the bush, tackling implicit bias is difficult and, if you are doing it right, you will feel uncomfortable during the process. Plus, as individuals, there is a huge personal and professional risk one takes on by bringing awareness to inequality. It’s important to have a clear motivation or intention before diving in. For example, do you want to change the world, or do just enough slow the flow of people leaving your firm? Or perhaps you have a perception problem you’d like to shift. Whatever it is, it’s important to have a clearly stated, and realistic intention.
  3. Build a Culture of Timely Feedback- A Central Element to Awareness. Any good leadership training starts with looking into the mirror, or perhaps more specifically, looking at our blind spots. That’s where our friend feedback comes in. Most people aren’t trained to give feedback, and it takes practice. Feedback can be a one-two punch to the ego, so it’s important that we build systems within our organizations that support feedback from leadership down. No matter how much reading, videos, or podcasts we absorb, it’s not enough, feedback is essential for personal growth. When our consultants design and facilitate engagements, feedback training is often an essential element. Feedback models are not hard to come by, there are many out there to choose from, take time to select one that works for your group. When giving feedback, always ask the person if it’s a good time. Feedback is a gift of perspective, and with any gift, you can choose to use it or not, while also being appreciative for the insight.

If you would like to explore more Implicit Bias training, feedback models, or more expansive Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity training, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.

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Hanna Richards-James, Owner, Fantail Collaborative

As owner and principal consultant of Fantail Collaborative, Hanna’s focus in leadership development stems from her passion to promote equity and diversity – particularly in regards to implicit bias in the workplace. Her interest is working with transitioning leadership groups to build trusting relationships. Together with providing professional coaching to develop individual possibilities, this combination fosters the development of leadership teams and supports individuals to move into their own greatness. hanna@fantailcollaborative.com. To learn more about the Fantail Collaborative, visit their website at www.fantailcollaborative.com.

Join Hanna and others as they explore the impact of implicit bias and equity in the workplace at this year’s Future Vision event “The Value Proposition for Equity” hosted by ForWARD and AIA Portland, May 19, 2017. For more information visit: http://aiaportland.org/futurevision