You have heard it all before. Diversity training does not work. It makes certain segments of your workforce feel neglected – mainly white, heterosexual men or your seasoned employees and blah blah blah …
I agree. It’s all B.S.
Most problems that arise out of so called “diversity issues” are because of our biases. We don’t like to address these biases because either it is unconscious or we have validated them.
Diversity in the workplace, diversity on college and university campuses and diversity throughout our police departments as well as religious freedom acts seem to rank daily as front-page news but it’s all B.S. I know you are thinking that it’s wrong for me to call your feelings B.S., especially since as a Diversity & Inclusion consultant I’m supposed to be sensitive to your thoughts. Let me explain.
We all know that B.S. means bullshit and I do feel that degrading someone based on his or her diverse characteristics is bullshit but I have come up with a new acronym for B.S., which is Bias Synapse. Based on eighth grade science, a synapse is how our brain communicates through brain cells usually in one direction. This is also how our biases work. When we are biased, we tend to think about people in one direction as well, which is negative.
The conversation around how unconscious biases affect work environments is creating a buzz in HR departments. We may not realize that we treat people differently based on ingrained thoughts in our way of thinking.
Know what your biases are. It will help you to understand where they came from. It also helps you to understand stereotypes and prejudices and their role in society, which trickles down to our personal lives. Stereotypes are viewed as positive or negative unlike our biases, which are negative.
If we will honestly examine ourselves, we all have biases. My main bias is that I did not trust white people and I still struggle with it. Another bias is regarding transgender people. I sometimes find myself uncomfortable around them because I don’t fully understand.
My distrust in white people was a learned bias. My family unintentionally taught me distrust of white people as a way to protect me. As I grew up and encountered my own issues with white people, it reinforced what I had learned through my family.
Regarding the transgender community, I just do not understand men who want to be women and women who want to be men. I also don’t know what it feels like to believe I should have been born as the opposite sex nor have I had a desire to be the opposite sex, as I have heard transgender people explain. My level of comfort seems to depend on where they are in the transitioning process. It stresses me a little because I don’t want to be offensive and call him or her by the wrong gender pronoun.
I have worked in D&I for most of my career and it still took me years to recognize my own biases because I did not realize that I even had them. Over the last couple of years, I have developed a three (3)-step process called Permission Granted to deal with biases.
Step One: Identify your B.S. – that is exactly what I did regarding my distrust of white people and my level of discomfort with transgender people.
Photo Credit: http://www.theinclusionsolution.me
This step is not as easy as it sounds because we usually do not recognize our own biases unless we have validated our reason as to why we feel negative toward a certain group. For me, I knew it was something I learned but I did not give it much thought. While growing up in a predominately, white town and attending a predominately white school, things happened that I knew were indicative of my skin color. It is very easy to get a point of rationalizing your B.S.
Step Two: Own your B.S. – It can take a while to own your B.S. because then you have to admit to a few unlikely or embarrassing characteristics about yourself but this is very important to the process. Actually, say the words aloud to yourself because they will undoubtedly sound like the B.S. that it is.
Ownership of stupidity is hard to internalize even if you can validate your biases.
Step Three: Move through your B.S. – This step is essential to eradicate bias. I got over my mistrust of white people (for the most part) by realizing that I knew some cool white people. I even consider some of them family. By my reasoning for mistrust of white people, I sure as hell should not trust some black people but I did not realize this because I have a high comfort level around black people.
Almost immediately, I see black people as extended family and I can understand the struggles that we all face in the black community. The similarities help me to see through our differences. That is not as likely to happen when your differences are race, sexuality, age or gender. It’s easy to say that others don’t understand your plight, we tend to focus on those differences, and the space continuously grows.
I am still working on my level of comfort around transgender people but I am getting there because I am doing the work. I am very happy that my level of consciousness about my own biases is high enough to realize that my issues are mine and no one else has to deal with deal with them. What I mean by that is – just because I don’t fully understand the transgender community does not mean that I get to treat them differently. Everyone deserves respect. Our biases affect others when we feel we have the right to make someone feel inadequate simply because “we don’t get it.” Your issues are your own and this is where we seem to lose humanity.
The point of my Permission Granted process is that you have permission to feel how it is that you need to feel to deal with your biases. You just cannot judge or treat people differently because of your own B.S.
Pissy Polite Co-Workers
This is a major problem while at work. We are hired to build the best systems and products or offer the best services but companies also have to worry about our health and well-being. Unhappy people who do not trust their co-workers are not likely to work together efficiently or effectively. They will be pissy polite toward each other, saying just enough to get the project done.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has to encourage an open environment that engages employees to offer their thoughts and opinions. Diversity is your competitive advantage.
Lastly, in moving through your B.S., you must be intentional. Once you realize what your biases are, you must intentionally work on yourself and be very astute of your surroundings and your feelings regarding those who are different from yourself. Do not allow your comfort zone with one group of people to cloud your thinking of being objective to all of those whom you encounter.
Permission Granted to feel how you need to feel to get rid of your B.S. because biases really are bullshit.
Written by: Risha Grant, CEO of DiversityConneX and Risha Grant LLC
Copyright Risha Grant LLC and DiversityConneX
Photo Credit: Seana Wilkerson
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