Lessening the impact of unconscious bias is a must-have 21st century leadership skill
You’re an enlightened manager. You understand diversity & Inclusion training is no longer optional. You’ve gone through the training and understand why we need diversity and inclusion in the workplace. You've conscientiously hired a diverse team because you know they are more high performing.
You’ve done your part. Now you can pat yourself on the back and wait to reap the benefits. ... Right?
Equality and diversity training in the workplace is just one piece of the EDI puzzle. Read further to learn more about how leaders can influence the workplace culture to better capitalise on the power of their diverse teams, keep them happy, and make them thrive.
Read: A Guide to Understanding: Inclusion and Diversity Efforts in the Workplace for a fundamental understanding of this very important topic.
Unconscious Bias and its Workplace Cultural Impact
Understanding unconscious bias is the key to effectively transforming a workplace into a diverse and inclusive utopia. Understanding bias helps leaders notice it in themselves and others, and to adapt for it. Through understanding, leaders develop meaningful connections and take steps to bravely make and lead change.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Until recently, business leaders have been unwilling to admit the prevalence of discrimination and unconscious bias within their organisations. Bias that's been ingrained into broader societal culture and taken for granted for generations needs courageous individuals to lift their eyes and their voices against it. Unraveling this subtle and obscured nature of bias in the workplace is aided through unconscious bias training.
Much of the discrimination in the workplace occurs subtly. Job search company Glassdoor found that 61% of US employees had witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or LGBTQ identity. This, in an environment where many leaders do not notice anything is wrong. Understanding the impact of their words and actions is the responsibility of ALL employees in order to maintain a culture where everyone can thrive.
The Case for Inclusive Leadership
Inclusion and diversity are intersectional– not interchangeable– concepts. One without the other is not sufficient. Inclusion is about how the organisation values and treats different types of people’s contributions. Diversity (or diverse representation) is about the composition of an organisation. The visible and invisible factors, including such personal characteristics as background, culture, and accent. When inclusion and diversity efforts work together, the entire organisation performs in harmony.
Consulting firm Deloitte reported Qantas CEO Alan Joyce as encapsulating this idea: Qantas’ very diverse environment and inclusive culture “got us through the tough times . . . diversity generated better strategy, better risk management, better debates, [and] better outcomes.”
Being enlightened and committed to mitigating the impact of unconscious bias is essential for today’s inclusive leaders according to Harvard Business Review. Simply hiring people according to a diversity ticklist will not guarantee high performance. It ultimately falls to leadership to determine the success of an organisation’s diversity efforts.
According to Deloitte’s research, inclusiveness directly impacts team performance with 17% reported as “high performing” under the management of an inclusive leader. The research goes further to say organisations with inclusive cultures are:
- 2X as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
- 3X as likely to be high performing
- 6X as likely to be innovative and agile
- 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes
Building a Belonging Culture is an Essential Responsibility of Managers
Corporate HR efforts by themselves are not enough to create a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture. It, in fact, takes “a village.” The intrinsic belief of an inclusive culture must live with and be bolstered by leaders at all levels of the organisation.
What leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual feels included. You, as the leader, set the tone and model behaviour for your team. It’s important for managers to walk the walk to the idea of an inclusive culture. Organizations are losing talent because they haven’t gone far enough in creating a culture that’s truly welcoming to all.
Microaggressions in particular-- the "throw away” comments of societal taken-for-granted bias-- are a significant source of conflict and unconscious bias. Not only are they painful to the receiver, they can also be distressing to others who overhear the remark. Left unchecked, unconscious bias in the workplace infects the working environment and inhibits inclusive culture development.
Managers are already on the front lines of dealing with bias conflicts. You are in a unique position to disarm those conflicts before they even begin. If you want to be an inclusive manager, you need to be able to recognise bias in action.
Creating a Truly Safe– and Brave– Space
Leaders and their organisations must create a brave space– even more so than a safe space– for uncomfortable dialogue. This, according to global diversity and inclusion consulting firm, The Winters Group. “There are a lot of things in life that are uncomfortable. That’s no longer an excuse to not have these conversations.”
Managers often say they feel uncomfortable discussing racial or gender issues. This is often the case when employees don’t share similar backgrounds or look like them. Taking on the uncomfortable conversations is one way to signal value and respect to employees– the ultimate affirmation of inclusiveness.
Small changes can make a big impact. They send a message of inclusion and respect, and endeavour to create a safe space for all. When it comes to names, it’s important to ask employees for clarification and practise proper pronunciation. You should, similarly, encourage team members to do the same and even go the extra step of correcting others should they witness regular mispronunciation.
Some questions to ask yourself to test your inclusiveness:
- Do I give equal time to all meeting participants, even when they’re not in the room?
- Do I always refer to one gender when giving examples?
- Do I always use sports metaphors or other imagery that represent only one group of people?
- Do I point out microaggressions when they occur or do I participate in them?
Lessening the impact of unconscious bias is an essential 21st century leadership skill. As the team leader, you set the tone, model and define what is acceptable behaviour for your team and organisation. As an inclusive leader, you courageously lead for change.
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About the author
Rama Eriksson is a Content Editor at findcourses.co.uk. Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.