In my three prior blogs on this topic, I emphasized three main points:
- Implicit bias is wired into who we are; don’t attempt to eradicate it.
- Instead, allow employees to go on a journey of awareness.
- And then, create an environment that fosters acknowledgment of biases.
Awareness and acknowledgment are critical first steps. But, what about some real action? What should leaders, managers, and frontline team members do to address implicit bias?
Action 1: Change the Conversation
The phrases implicit bias and unconscious bias are inherently negative. As a parent and former educator, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of positive framing compared to negative framing. “Remain seated” is better than, “Don’t stand up.” “Treat your brother with kindness” is more helpful than, “Stop being mean to your brother.”
Why should this be different in other settings? I spoke with one leader at a financial services organization who told me she was seeking to shift the conversation from “unconscious bias” to “conscious inclusion.” While this phrase seems to be growing in popularity, this is not just semantics. We should always focus on what we want more of, rather than what we want less of.
Action 2: Authentically Listen
Male CEOs lead 473 companies in the Fortune 500, and African American CEOs lead only three of the 500. With facts such as these, it’s impossible to deny the lack of diversity at the CEO level. Understandably, employees and customers often wonder if leaders “get it.” As alluded to in an earlier post, Starbucks and American Airlines have both authentically listened.
Starbucks notably created an advisory council of individuals to weigh in on their broader approach to combat implicit bias in their stores. One of those council members, Heather McGhee, noted:
“As an African American woman going into this conversation, I had a lot of cynicism about how much a corporation would actually be committed to making a significant, meaningful difference after the headlines faded. What surprised me has been the depth of commitment the Starbucks leadership had to seeing this as essential to their mission.”
At American Airlines, leaders are increasing their own awareness to more effectively address the most prevalent implicit bias issues. To do so, they consult with diverse team members from all workgroups as an opportunity for people to share their voices and perspectives on issues they see. Leaders spend time with these groups to simply listen, ask questions, and listen some more.
Action 3: Create Conditions for Objectivity
I recently met with leaders at a Midwestern Fortune 100 company. They highlighted a recent story where a manager sought to promote a male team member who had “met expectations” over a female team member who had “exceeded expectations.” Because the performance management process created more objectivity, the manager could more fairly make the promotional decision. Without this objectivity, bias reigns.
Adrienne Penta, a leader at America’s oldest private bank, shares this advice: “Design systems and processes to encourage inclusion. Behavioral design makes it easier for our biased minds to make unbiased choices. Good design leads to better outcomes.”
Creating conditions for objectivity takes time, but it is well worth the effort.
Action 4: Notice and Name
During a recent leadership development session at a New Jersey-based organization, one participant noticed all success stories and examples highlighted male leaders. She whispered this to a male colleague of mine. Together, they had the courage to name this bias for the group of 12 leaders. It created a robust and helpful conversation that would not have occurred without noticing and naming the bias.
Whether you are a leader, manager, or frontline team member, noticing and naming potential biases help create a culture eager to create a more inclusive environment.
Action 5: Be Persistent and Consistent
Does your organization really believe implicit bias is an issue worth addressing?
In midst of hundreds of possible priorities, is implicit bias really that high on the organization’s list? Or, is it only an episodic focus connected to a specific incident of bias?
If creating an environment of conscious inclusion is truly a goal for the organization, then leaders must persistently and consistently talk about it. Without this persistency and consistency, implicit bias will be considered a flavor of the month. And with flavors of the month, employees and customers can quickly lose trust in the organization.
Action 6: Slow Down!
For all the actions listed above, one action underpins all of them: slow down. Whether you are a barista making a judgment about a customer, a flight attendant wondering if a passenger should be in first class, a manager making a hiring decision, or a leader prioritizing time with peers who look like him, it is vital to slow down. Our brains unconsciously move fast to make biased judgments. We must consciously slow ourselves down to act in a consciously inclusive way.
These Six Actions Can Make a Real Difference
These six actions can make a difference in addressing the implicit bias at your organization. Or perhaps, apply one action to “change the conversation” and consciously create an inclusive environment.
In your organization, which of these actions consistently happen? What actions can you personally accelerate? I want to know!
- Change the Conversation
- Authentically Listen
- Create Conditions for Objectivity
- Notice and Name
- Be Persistent and Consistent
- Slow Down