Thursday, May 26, 2016

Leveling the Playing Field

But how, if we do not even know if we are considered a leading player?

Guest post by Rosalie Chamberlain
It is really common to think we can assess someone and think we know how they will be.  There is a certain amount of wishful thinking when a new employee comes on in an organization. After all, the resume is great, the experience may be great, and we really liked them.  We think they will be a fit. 

We can update and change policies and procedures to be more Inclusive and this is necessary, but if someone is stigmatized because of conscious or unconscious bias, real change won't happen. Sometimes, we even categorize that person even without knowing we do it. How can you really see someone if you have already decided how they will be? This squelches possibilities. And if a policy is new and you want people to take advantage of it; say, for instance, a flexible schedule policy or telecommuting, and an employee thinks or knows they will be stigmatized, why would they take advantage of it? Policies are being put in place all the time and they are not effective. Until we are all responsible for looking at our biases and their impact, real and sustainable change does not happen.

This is where the rooting out of our biases is crucial. It brings a tendency to see things from a dualistic lens.  And it works both ways.  From the dualistic view as a leader, I can't realize the impact of putting someone in a box because of assumptions and biases. As the employee, I won't take advantage of a benefit that could enhance my work experience and work satisfaction, yet alone my opportunities for growth and advancement.

So, that is one example. When we do not recognize bias is present, the negative effect also impacts how employees show up in their willingness to share ideas, creativity, engagement and innovation. There is clearly something wrong with this picture.  Left in unawareness of what is happening, the patterns do not change. What happens is a perpetuation of bias on both parts. It becomes habit.

An important piece for sorting through bias is to recognize what happens when the F.E.A.R. loop comes in. What happens when we experience fear?

F – We are in Fight or Flight mode; we become defended and often defensive.
E – We Exclude; we can become isolated and separated from others and even ourselves.

A – We Avoid; we avoid seeing other perspectives or looking deeper into cause and effect.
R – We React; we react from our emotions, sometimes focusing on the past or a perceived future.

Here are some questions to bring awareness to the situation and transform the feeling of fear:

F – Who and why do I want to fight or flight; how am I defended and what am I defending against?
E – Who am I excluding and how am I isolating and separating from others and from myself?

A – What are my beliefs and perceptions and what other ways of viewing a situation or person am I avoiding?
R – What are my emotional reactions and where are they coming from within my experience?

Gaining clarity through awareness gives us a choice to make a conscious decision that is not driven by fear. Even if a little discomfort still exists, it is a very different feeling that is manageable.

Another important factor about biases is that they are varied and broad. We often think of the five major areas of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation as the biases to address. Absolutely, awareness of these is critical to improve the lack of inclusion and diversity in organizations. And, we also have biases about personality types, work styles, communication styles, socio-economic backgrounds, geographic backgrounds, status, rank/privilege, family status, education, and the list goes on. Understanding these types of biases are also important for interaction with colleagues and the effectiveness of teams.

Our biases impact who we put on teams, provide effective feedback to, give opportunities to, position for advancement, let alone hire in the first place.  It does mean that we become best cohorts or friends, but it does mean we miss out on significant amounts of talent when we make decisions of inclusion and exclusion based on a lack of awareness of our biases and how they impact our decisions.

Rosalie Chamberlain is the Owner of Denver, CO-based Rosalie Chamberlain Consulting & Coaching. A thirty-five year organizational culture and eighteen year corporate coaching veteran, she specializes in maximizing talent and productivity within organizations. She is a skilled consultant, facilitator, coach and speaker in the areas of diversity and inclusion strategy, multicultural competency, leadership development, and talent management, with expertise in managing and leveraging diverse talent.
Previously, Chamberlain was a Diversity & Inclusion Manager for a national American Lawyer Top 100 law firm. She received her diversity and inclusion credentials from Cornell University’s Institute for Labor & Relations (ILR) and was certified through the International Coaching Federation. To learn more visit and connect on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Her new book, Conscious Leadership in the Workplace, is available on Amazon as well as other online booksellers.

No comments: