Diversity in Leadership: Unconscious Bias – Give it a go!

RightTrack Learning

This blog is part of the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce’s (ABCC) Diversity in Leadership campaign.

The Diversity in Leadership campaign works with some of the regions’ biggest employers in order to boost the numbers of women and those from black and minority ethnic (BAME), lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and disability groups being represented on boards of directors and in leadership roles.

Click here to find out more about the campaign.

There is a lot of it going on right now. I don’t only mean unconscious bias – that’s universally epidemic and always has been – what I do mean is that there is a lot of unconscious bias training going on just now. 

The response we have had from the Unconscious Bias for Leaders workshop, hosted by the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce, in support of their Diversity in Leadership Pledge  has been staggering!

Organisations are really switching on to the fact that behaviours resulting from unconscious bias have a deep impact on psychological safety and hence on employee engagement and productivity.

People are routinely side-lined in conversation, are on the end of jokey put-downs, or more subtly have their eye contact avoided, their handshake received less warmly, or presence ignored entirely.

This means that the organisation may promote itself as ‘Inclusive’ on the surface but once you get inside there is a lot of non-inclusive behaviour going on that undermines the health of the business.

So here we go. 

To start to recognise what our most significant personal unconscious biases might be, and how they present themselves, let's look at how we develop our bias-awareness.

This is not about being negatively critical of oneself or others but about understanding that we all have different people preferences that come into play the moment we see or meet someone.

These preferences, or prejudices, are hard-wired into our subconscious and come from our upbringing, life experiences and possibly from our genes.

There are well-recognised assessment tests that feedback on your level of bias and are a good starting place.

They are inevitably limited on aspects they test on and you may like to try some additional strategies to develop awareness of, and then manage or contain, those biases.

Over the next couple of days, you will no doubt come into contact with a range of different people. For a moment, stop and think about who you might encounter and how you would routinely greet them. 

Then think through how your greeting differs between individuals and why. The chances are that there will be a difference because of the way you feel about them, possibly or even probably through some unconscious bias. 

See if you can plan to offer a greeting that has an appropriate level of warmth and friendliness uniformly to each of them, regardless of who they are or the history of your relationship.

Try out the greetings with everyone you meet, if you have time keep a note about how it went, what the reaction was if you changed your usual approach, and what you learned. 

The trick is being mindful of your thought-processes, language and interactions at all times.

Greeting other people equally and inclusively - here are a few ideas:

With everyone you meet offer a compliment or positive comment:

  • ‘Hey Alex, looks like you’re on good form today’
  • ‘Alright Keisha. I liked the presentation you gave last week’
  • ‘Morning Miriam, thanks for the email you sent yesterday. Really appreciate it’

Avoid negatives in your own responses to greetings:

  • ‘Thanks, I am not too bad’ (sounds like you are bad, just not too bad)
  • ‘Wish it would stop raining/ It’s really cold today.’ (wanting something you have no control over)
  • ‘I’ve still got the cold I started on Monday’ (sounds like you are looking for sympathy)

Keep your approach up-beat and positive, no matter who you talk to:

  • Keeping a gratitude diary helps you to see the positives in people
  • Build rapport with others - share something about yourself or your weekend to encourage others to share something back
  • Listen to what people have to say back (like really listen!)

Deliberately make strong eye contact

  • Notice how you have to make a greater effort to do that with some people than others. Think why that might be
  • You may have seen that person a hundred times but when you look at them, really ‘see’ them, rather than operating from autopilot
  • Try shaking hands with someone you haven’t seen for a while and make sure you keep eye contact while you do.  Reflect on whether that starts to change the dynamic between you and the other person