I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight…
Bias, inequity, toxic workplaces…these are all experiences and behaviors we’ve lived and died with for thousands of years – ever since we became “civilized” and lived in larger communities with other humans and began fighting with other “tribes” for resources of one kind or another. These are global challenges and ever-present in all cultures. The truth: these and other dehumanizing, dysfunctional, unproductive ways of being human together are not going to disappear anytime soon in our families, communities, or workplaces.
This all makes me want to crawl under a thick, dark blanket, curl up into a fetal position, and pretend that when I grow up (become fully evolved), other humans will have finally figured out that we’re truly in this together, there is no Planet B, and none of us will get off this planet alive. I want everyone to honor each other’s lives, dignity, and human rights. I think it’s a bit like wishing for world peace – almost too big to say or wrap my head around, let alone, create. So what can we each do? What can we each control?
Let’s begin by looking at unconscious bias. We, meaning every human being on the earth, has NO idea how unconsciously biased we are – because, it’s (duh) unconscious! So if you want to learn more about how biased you may be, you can start by assessing yourself with Harvard’s free “Project Implicit” Implicit Association Test with a set of topics that includes race, gender, weight, age, religion, politics, lifestyle, weapons, etc. You may agree or disagree with the results, but no matter what, your awareness will increase and you will be challenged to think more deeply about your biases. Noticing and then addressing one’s own biases is fundamental in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
We all have opinions, beliefs, and biases. Now, bias is not a dirty word or even a negative thing to have. For instance, as an executive coach, I might have a preference, and therefore a bias, to work with only health care professionals or only non-profit leaders, or C-Suite executives because of my expertise and experience and I am clear about that to any prospective client. However, if I will ONLY work with people who are of the same race, ethnicity, lifestyle, ability/impairment, gender, education, political party, or age as myself, then negative bias, conscious or unconscious, is at play. Leaders need to pay attention, listen carefully, and address bias in employee’s stories, beliefs, and values. These may show up in their voices, choices, body language, behaviors, and actions.
Allowing bias to overtly or covertly contaminate our human resource practices and processes from recruitment to onboarding to performance management to termination is a non-starter for any business that hopes to thrive in 2021 and beyond. The evolving awareness of the most valuable talent out there simply isn’t going to want to, or have to work, for organizations whose culture is toxic largely because of unaddressed bias in recruitment, promotions, and terminations. Being blind to, or simply ignoring bias in the workplace will show up on the bottom line no matter what kind of organization is allowing this to continue. At the end of the day…it’s just not a smart business strategy and one day, my hope is it will be a doomed strategy.