BIASED: No, Yes, Maybe?
Sometimes it seems easier to keep your mouth shut. Right? Our communities and work places can be overly “politically correct” environments these days, and it feels as though you can’t say anything anymore without risking offending someone. It’s easier to think if we don’t offend we will solve the issue of managing our differences, maximizing our work effectiveness, and mitigating risks of liability in our business, but the real solution to the problem lies below the surface, much deeper in our subconscious.
I started delivering training programs to educate about Workplace sexual harassment for companies in the early 90s at the ripe old age of 26. I remember how unsettling it was then for people to shift how they viewed what was acceptable in a new and ever-changing corporate climate. Raunchy birthday cards, calendars of scantily- clothed women pinned on cubicle walls, racial jokes, inappropriate comments about a women’s body or dress, believe it or not, were all a normal part of the workplace, and considered acceptable at the time.
In the 1960s, the statistics were that the typical U.S. workplace was made up of 29-year-old white males, it seemed more than not, that everyone was the same, so it was assumed offending someone was a non-issue. Over time, the corporate environment has gone through a transformation and changed drastically in terms of who makes up the workplace. So how do we communicate and work effectively with people of different ages, nationalities, genders, religions and political beliefs without alienating or offending them? I believe the answer is the same in 2018 as it was 25 years ago, it’s about understanding what story you tell yourself about others and understanding what story they tell themselves about you… it all comes down to BIAS.
No matter how open minded, evolved and unbiased you believe you are, like it or not, bias exists in all of us. Why? Because we all have a life story that lives in our subconscious, our emotional brain. Our life stories are a collection of experiences that most of the time, without our awareness, inform how we think, act, and behave. Gaining awareness of these stories and our biases comes from improving our Emotional Intelligence, which while intangible, is “something real” in each of us. Our EQ affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions. When our subconscious or emotional brain is in charge, our biases inform our behavior. When we use our Emotional Intelligence to also engage our logical brain, we understand our stories, our biases, and enact judgement to overcome our biases and achieve positive results.
I grew up in rural PA in a place with very little cultural diversity, yet I always believed I wasn’t prejudice despite my very “white” upbringing. That all changed at 24 years old, living in Philadelphia while getting my Master’s in Psychology. I vividly remember one-night walking home to my apartment on University of Pennsylvania’s campus, when a group of young black men, were walking toward me on the same side of Locust Walk and my brain said, “danger!” But then I thought “this is ridiculous” and started to have a conversation with myself, “Why am I assuming these guys are dangerous? Would I feel the same way if they were white?” And the honest answer was, NO. Was I prejudice, MAYBE, but, was I biased, YES!
I started to think about my life, and all the stories that informed me that “groups of black men are dangerous.” I decided then, rather than to deny it, I would have to lean into this knowledge, own my prejudice, and create a new story to change my biases. This profound experience inspired me to work with people and businesses to transform into a more emotionally intelligent version of themselves.
Like the corporate environment has evolved over the years, I have seen first-hand how sexual harassment training has evolved as well. Sexual harassment, became harassment and respect training, to present day “bias training.” Thanks to technology and understanding how the brain functions, we are finally getting to the root of the problem. Our emotional, subconscious, brains rule us, and so therefore, when only our emotions rule us, our judgement becomes impaired creating BIAS.
I have spent 3 decades of my career helping people in business understand their and other’s stories to be more effective leaders, managers, employees, salespeople and people. I have learned that most people are well-intended. They simply don’t know how to discover their stories to find a new way to behave to be more effective in dealing with diversity & bias. You can tell people WHY they need to do something, and tell them WHAT they need to do, but without showing them a HOW to, I believe the efforts are for naught.
What I know, is that your subconscious is telling a story about every person you encounter every day, and they are telling a story about you, or your business. And these stories are biased and can cost you. When executives help themselves and their people embrace their bias and understand their stories, they change the dialogue, increase emotional intelligence and people learn to connect rather than stopping successful communication.
Article By: Christine Miles, M.S. Ed – Co-Founder & Chief Architect
Unconscious-bias training, meanwhile, starts by helping workers understand that many biases are ingrained, whether by giving them a test or generally helping them understand the science behind their inherent nature. That is followed by a discussion around how that plays out in the workplace and — hopefully — some strategies for tackling those ingrained biases at work.
Transcend whatever bias you are facing by going deep within yourself and affirming and supporting your highest self and highest potential.