Welcome to Episode 50 in our special Season 4! In “Understanding & Correcting Our Biases,” Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, shares key learnings from a few chapters of her book, How to Be an Ally (McGraw-Hill 2021). She explores some common workplace biases, how they show up in the workplace, and how to correct them in ourselves, along with some intervention strategies for reducing biases in the workplace. Melinda also addresses gaslighting and making sure we show empathy when people talk about their own experiences.
- Preorder Melinda’s new book!!: How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace
- Leading With Empathy & Allyship EP49: “Why Empathy & Allyship Matter In The Workplace,” EP48: “How To Be An Ally In The Remote Workplace” & EP16: “How To Be A Great Ally” with Melinda Briana Epler
- Leading With Empathy & Allsyhip EP10: “Living & Leading Through Fear, Bias & Othering: with Ritu Bhasin
- “Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men” by Alison Wood Brooks, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona E. Murray
- “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman
- “Prototypes of race and gender: The invisibility of Black women” by Amanda K. Sesko and Monica Biernat
Special thanks to First Tech Federal Credit Union, sponsor of Episodes 49 & 50. First Tech Federal Credit Union is the nation’s premier credit union serving employees & family members of the world’s leading technology companies. Learn more at www.firsttechfed.com.
The live show is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now and White Coat Captioning.
- “Biases are mental patterns. They are shortcuts that influence our perception about something, someone or a situation. We learn them from our families, from our friends, teachers, media, culture; and we might not be aware of them. They can perpetuate all the things we just talked about: oppression, inequity, and marginalization.”
- “There is work that we can do to counter biases in the workplace. Pause, humanize and empathize, and self-regulate. Practice this on your team; work with your team to do this as well. How can you all kind of pause, reflect, make sure you are making decisions in an inclusive way and an unbiased way? And then prime your team. Be aware of biases before you go into a meeting. Before you embark on a project. If you are about to interview a candidate, remind everyone beforehand, you value diversity of experience and to be aware of your biases in that moment.”
MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship. Here we have deep, real conversations about how we can be more inclusive leaders in our workplaces and communities. I am Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst. At Change Catalyst we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting and events. This is a safe space to learn, to build empathy for each other and understand tangible actions we can all take to make a difference in each other’s lives and in our own lives as well.
This is a special summer season 4 where I talk about some of our most requested topics and answer any questions you all have from the live audience here. Today’s episode 50. 50. We have been doing this for a year. We took a few weeks off here and there so 50 it is.
We will be talking about “Understanding & Correcting Our Biases” and talk about what biases are, how they show up in the workplace, some common workplace biases, how to correct them in ourselves and also some intervention strategies for reducing biases in the workplace. We will also talk about believing versus gaslighting and making sure that we are showing empathy and presenting empathy as people talk about their own experiences. All right.
So thank you so much to First Tech Federal Credit Union for sponsoring this episode. On screen we have our ASL interpreters and thank you to Interpreter-Now for our ongoing partnership. We appreciate them and all they do. This is also being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. If you want to turn on captioning, just go to the bottom of the screen and click ‘closed caption’.
And then our team is behind the screens doing amazing work. Juliette, Renzo, Ariyah, GG and Emilie. They are also in the chat if you have questions, any technical issues, please just ask. Engage with us in the chat. Share what you are learning and thinking during the conversation. This definitely helps me considerably to know what is resonating for you and especially in a solo episode it is really helpful for me. Appreciate you all sharing your thoughts over the last several episodes. You all have been amazing.
Use the Q&A for specific questions you want to make sure I answer. I will spend time at the end if there are questions, spend time with you all and your questions. All right. So I am going to share my slides. All right. A little moment of silence here while I do that. Please continue to introduce yourselves. Thank you all. I appreciate you. I see your comment, Madeline. That’s awesome to hear. Okay. All right.
As you all know, I am Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst and to briefly describe myself, and the photo on the slide, I am a White woman with long hair. In the slide I am wearing a dark navy-blue long sleeve shirt. Today I am wearing a sleeveless light blue shirt and I have black and white glasses. You can find me on Twitter at @mbrianaepler or on Instagram @changecatalysts and you can also find me on LinkedIn as well. I create an inclusive ecosystem using human system design, storytelling, community building and behavioral science.
As many of you know, I am an author. I have been thinking about this book, How To Be An Ally, since 2015. Really gathering knowledge and research and researching and then writing it over the last two and half years and finally it is available for pre-order. Thank you, Karen. Appreciate that. I cannot wait for this to be out in the world helping people become better allies. It includes historical context, frameworks, data, stories, some of my own personal stories as well as stories people have told me in their own voices and a whole lot of ways you can take action.
My publisher is McGraw Hill. It will be released on September 14. I spent the weekend making the final edits on the book. Please pre-order it if you are able to do so. It makes a difference in the book’s success if there are a lot of pre-orders. Share it widely. Appreciate you who have. It has been really helpful. Appreciate you so much. If you want to order in bulk, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can buy books for your team, company, or school, for example, and we will make sure you get a discounted rate there.
This episode and the whole summer season of season 4 I am sharing a little bit of what is in the book to give you important ways you can make a difference as an ally in your workplace. Last time we talked about why empathy and allyship matter in the workplace, how they influence diversity, equity and inclusion and what people want from allies and also the business case.
We discussed representation and underrepresentation. People from many different backgrounds are underrepresented and face barriers in discrimination. Women, people who are non-binary, racial and ethnic minorities, people who are LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, veterans, religious minorities, and in age too in tech specifically. In our industry, anyone over 35 is underrepresented and in most industries this is an issue. Most industries this is an issue.
And we talked about intersectionality as well. People can hold more than one of these ideas, many of these identities. Someone could hold all these identities. These pieces of their identities, those aspects of their identity. And that can compound barriers in opportunity to live, to love, to lead, to thrive.
And we also talked about why. Why people are underrepresented. From society, historical privilege and oppression into the workplace. Historical privilege and oppression turns into the schools we have access to, the networks that get us jobs or don’t, the discrimination we face daily. Systemic inequities in hiring, pay, promotion inequity. Even products could be built to unintentionally reinforce inequities and cause inequity. And personal biases, which we will spend our time on today, can play a role in hiring, promotion, reviews, who leads, who speaks, how projects are assigned, who gets the stretch assignments, those big breaks in their careers and cultural marginalization as well. That can lead to a lot of things that, daily, over time really wear you down.
How do we solve it? We solve this through allyship and working together, one action at a time, one word at a time. We change the way we do things. We change the way we say things. Through a critical mass of allies and advocates, we can create change we want to see in our workplaces.
Allyship is understanding that imbalance and opportunity, understanding oppression, biases, discrimination, marginalization, inequity. All of these. It is understanding all of these using your power, your privilege, your influence to change it.
Today we are talking about doing no harm. The first piece of that is understanding and correcting our biases. We start by learning, unlearning and relearning. That is important. It’s a lifelong process. We unlearn what we know about success, opportunity, history, identity. But we don’t get stuck in just learning, right? It is really taking action, doing no harm, correcting your biases, recognizing that we have those biases that pass on through generations. Through family, friends, media, culture, and working to correct them, working to understand them.
Biases are mental patterns. They are shortcuts that influence our perception about something, someone or a situation. We learn them from our families, from our friends, teachers, media, culture and we might not be aware of them. They can perpetuate all the things we just talked about. Oppression, inequity, and marginalization.
Because they are learned though, we can unlearn them and as allies we must interrupt them by making them visible, by making them deeply conscious, being deeply conscious about what we say and what we do. It requires effort. It requires time to unlearn and unravel what has been ingrained in our consciousness for so long but it does get easier over time. The more you learn, the more it gets easier, the more you see them, the more you are able to interrupt them.
Our biases appear in many ways from small non-verbal cues we give through facial expressions and body language to assumptions we make about people when hiring or promoting, to the way we design events, physical spaces, the way we give reviews, benefits – the way we design benefit programs, the way we design learning and development programs, mentorship programs, products and services, of course, as well. All of these can have real consequences of whether or not someone succeeds in their career and thrives in their career, gets where they want to in their career or whether they feel safe or like they belong in the workplace and in the world.
Some examples of biases – due to biases investors are more likely to invest in attractive men. Attractive people are more likely to be employed and more likely to earn more. Resumes with African American sounding names receive fewer callbacks. That means when you are Black, you have to apply to more jobs before you get those interviews.
People with disabilities are seen as unhirable. That has a huge impact on employment rates for people with disabilities. A motherhood penalty and a fatherhood boost results in compensation disparities. Black women are often invisible where their presence and statements are less likely to be remembered than White peers. Leadership roles are seen as masculine and there is data that shows all of this. There is research that shows all of this. We will share some of those in our follow-up to this on our website. And then lastly, applicants with women-sounding names are rated lower for competence, for hireability, mentoring potential.
Biases can influence how we see and interact with each other both inside and outside the office as well. Walking into stores and restaurants with my husband, who is Black, I see women holding their purses tighter. I see security guards following them through the store. I see cashiers looking harder to make sure he hasn’t stuck anything in his pockets. He is a successful entrepreneur and he is a leader in the field, though to be clear no one should be treated as a criminal because of the color of their skin. He doesn’t get to just walk into a room. He walks into a room and has to take into account how his skin color affects people.
My husband is also my co-founder and when in important partnership meetings often people assume he is the CEO because he is a man or the reverse. They don’t even talk to him because they see him as my assistant. Our biases can be so quick and mostly unintentional and the results that come out from them. But they can yet harm someone’s sense of self-worth, safety, respect and belonging. They can cause unintentional harm. We need to learn about them in order to intentionally disrupt them.
So we will talk about a few biases here today. I also want to mention the limitations of focusing exclusively on biases. A lot of companies spend a lot of time on unconscious bias training or implicit bias training. I want to be really clear. Unconscious bias training can help you learn about biases. Good training can also give you alternatives and ways to interrupt those biases both through personal and systemic interventions.
Unconscious bias training cannot magically change culture and behavior on its own. Unconscious bias training can help you learn about your individual biases, but it does not change diversity, equity, and inclusion across your workplace very much. It is the beginning. You have to do a lot more work to really create change. About 50% of your inbound client inquiries at Change Catalyst are from companies who did unconscious bias training and didn’t create the change they wanted. They usually spend a huge budget on it, on rolling it out across the organization. Then employees can get angry because nothing is changing or fatigued, ready to move on from diversity, equity and inclusion because it is a lot of work, a lot of budget and not a lot of gain.
Training needs to go further, it needs to go deeper, it needs to be systemic, it needs to be over time. A 2019 study analyzed evidence from 492 other studies on unconscious bias training interventions and found, “little evidence showing that a change in implicit measures will result in changes for explicit measures or behavior”. So change internally doesn’t create change externally, essentially. Our work and the work of many of my colleagues have confirmed this. While it can help people learn but doesn’t consistently change behavior. People need the tools to take action once they learn about biases. It is not enough to just do unconscious bias training. It can be powerful, but it needs to include allyship training, advocacy training, and the specific departmental training, leadership training really going deeper and continuing forth with the learning, and the growth and the action.
Many of you probably remember back in 2017, there was a very public instance of how unconscious bias training can go wrong. When James Damore attended unconscious bias training at Google he was so turned off by it that we wrote a 10-page manifesto professing unconscious bias training and diversity, equity and inclusion are discriminatory. He said compassion for the weak. He said we should have respect for the strong and not lower the bar, which many of us have heard before. He said women are inherently and biologically inferior to men when it comes to engineering roles.
That manifesto was circulating throughout the company and caused a lot of division and trauma at Google. Eventually Google fired Damore for advancing harmful stereotypes because he was a manager, obviously very harmful. That can be very harmful. He went on to be a public figure speaking against diversity, equity and inclusion on conservative talk shows.
So if you do unconscious bias training, a few things to keep in mind. Don’t make it mandatory. Accompany it with training that teaches people how to change their behavior. Reward and hold people accountable for changing that behavior. Develop processes that help people reduce biases in decision making. Lots of processes you can put into place. And, above all, make sure you are investing time and resources into reducing systemic inequities. Go beyond training as well.
The other limitation here that I want to talk about here is there is a lot of focus on technology fixing biases. There are apps available for hiring teams that can remove names, education, and other common indicators that typically provoke bias, but they don’t fundamentally fix the problem. They don’t fundamentally correct it. Humanizing and empathizing are one of the keys to reducing personal biases. We need to actually actively reduce our own biases because when we rely on technology to correct our biases they are not correcting any behavior. It is not correcting any fundamental underlying biases. They are still going to come out in other ways.
Saying technology is going to fix it is actually normalizing biases and saying it is okay to have biases and technology is going to fix it. Use technology around biases with caution and use them to teach you about your biases so you can unlearn them. The other thing is that a lot of applications are still new and they still have biases within them themselves. They are still created by humans. People are still learning. That’s another thing to think about.
And then of course there are lots of examples of when artificial intelligence becomes a part of that. That can cause harm because historical data can be biased. Work to change behaviors. Work to fundamentally shift cultures. And keep in mind, one training, one technology, is not going to fundamentally fix it.
Let’s go into common biases. I know I said a mouthful there, so please, you all, feel free to share what you are thinking about in the chat. As I talk about the biases, the different types of biases, please, share any instances that are coming up for you or anything you can remember about something that hit home for you when that bias came up.
Identity bias. Bias against or for somebody’s gender, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, age, class, cast, political views, geographic origin, body size, thinking style. Also against or for parents, immigrants, LGBTQIA plus, people who have been incarcerated, etc. Across lots of different aspects of identity.
Denise, I think you just sent it to panelists but I hope it is okay to read your chat. “I think the most important thing to remember is in this work you must do and cannot assign to someone else or some software to do it for you.” Absolutely. And Erica says, “Also spaces need to be created where people can honestly share what they feel and think.” We talked about psychological safety a bit last time. It is so important creating these safe spaces to talk about the real issues and education and sensitizing can flow from this. Absolutely.
A few examples of identity bias in the workplace: assigning admin tasks to women, not interviewing somebody with a disability because you don’t think they will perform well, which happens a lot, believing people with a particular race, gender or thinking style are better leaders. When hands are raised at events or a meeting, you call on men first. I see this happen all of the time when Q&As happen at an event or a panel. It is not intentional. Most aren’t and that’s the key to make them visible and learn about them so we can be more positively intentional. Passing over someone for a promotion who is transgender or non-binary perhaps because you don’t believe they would excel in customer facing or management roles.
All these things happen a lot in the workplace. Please feel free to share additional ones that come up for you and you have seen in your work. A lot are sending notes to panelists only. If you wouldn’t mind sharing with everybody so panelists and attendees. Then we can all learn from you all, I would really appreciate that. Thank you and thank you for sharing.
Okay. Similarly stereotyping, also called perception bias. This is a type of identity bias as well. Assumption and often a derogatory belief about a particular group of people. Examples. Assuming someone who is Asian, Indigenous or Latinx can’t speak English well. Assuming Asian people are good at math or engineering, while women who aren’t Asian are bad at them. In job performance reviews describing an assertive woman as aggressive and an assertive man as confident. Believing a Black person isn’t a good person for leadership because they are “angry” or “overly direct.”
Can y’all think of some other examples of identity bias and stereotyping? Amanda says, “Anyone over 40 will not be able to pick up tech or excel at new things.” Absolutely. Lots of biases around age in the tech industry and other industries as well. Madeline says, “Can we talk about coaching different from allyship and advocacy as an important component of change? Beliefs have to move to action. Leaders can model but we may all need coaching in real-time. Training alone won’t get there if not put into practice.” Absolutely. 100% agree. We do coaching with leadership around inclusive leadership and it makes an incredible difference to internalize it, to really reflect and process. Coaching is really powerful. Absolutely Madeline.
Karen says, “New mothers won’t want a certain type of job that requires travel.” Yeah. Layla says, “Micromanaging the work of people with mental illness or mental disorders because the assumption is they don’t ever have enough concentration.” Yeah. There’s a lot of – I put some of this in the book around assumptions and biases that people make around people with disabilities in particular in the workplace. It is a lot. It is severe in how it affects long-term career opportunities and short-term career opportunities as well. Yeah. Thank you all for sharing.
So in-group/out-group bias, also called affinity bias, is the tendency to warm up to people like you. It often leads to in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination. In-group can be identity, neighborhood, school, sports team, or even type of sport, fraternity or sorority or some other type of affiliation, even workplace. Working at a specific company, there is a lot of affinity bias in the tech industry around Google and Facebook and some of the other larger tech companies that people assume and warm up to people that have worked at those companies.
Just a couple of examples here. Taking a chance on someone from your in-group while requiring someone from your out-group to pass tests to prove their skills. It happens a lot in the hiring process and in promotions too where: I’m just going to wait and see how she handles this project whereas he, I know he is going to be OK.
Looking for talent in your own networks from different schools and communities you might identify with. When you are looking for diverse talent, people with underrepresented identities to fill your roles, you need to go where they are and meet them where they are and that’s not necessarily in your networks. So, expand those networks.
When hiring, evaluating for “culture fit” or pattern matching to your current team. Looking for similar patterns and education and personality and other attributes that you think are going to align best with the current in-group for your team. Please feel free to add any additional ones as I move to the next one.
Halo effect: this is the tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like them. This often combines with affinity or in-group bias. Being more likely to warm up to someone like you and thinking everything about them is good. The opposite is the horns effect where someone makes a mistake in the past and you believe they are incapable of succeeding in the future.
Some examples here: enjoying a colleague’s company outside of work and choosing them for a promotion because you have a special connection with them. Someone like you makes a mistake and you brush it off as circumstances whereas somebody you don’t know as well makes a mistake and you hold them accountable and you consistently hold them countable. A brand creates a product you really like and you expect all of their products to be good products. Or somebody who is attractive is often perceived as more intelligent, trustworthy, healthy and confident just because they are perceived as attractive.
Maurice says, “If everyone on the team is the same, then only one of you is necessary.” – something to think about. Thank you, Maurice.
Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. If you have biases you can reinforce biases with confirmation bias. Social media algorithms show us things they believe we will like, usually confirming our beliefs and attitudes. There is lots of stuff written, lots of conversations about this. It can make us believe most have the same beliefs as our own and make it challenging to have constructive conversations about opposing beliefs.
Also, asking one-sided questions to get answers to confirm what we want to hear. This can happen in interviews. It can happen in reference checks. It can happen when we are conducting investigations internally. It can happen in the quality control process where we see what we want to see. It can happen in interviews and when we are seeking feedback from each other. Please share other ways confirmation bias, that halo effect might come up.
Moving on to group think. Also called conformity or consensus bias or the bandwagon effect. It has a lot of names. But it is generally the tendency for people in a group to desire harmony within the group and therefore find a decision that minimizes conflict, rather than a decision that achieves the ideal outcome. This can happen when your workplace lacks psychological safety which is something we talked about at length in the last episode where people don’t feel like they can take a risk, they can contradict the group. That can have a huge detrimental effect on innovation and decision making and a workplace culture that is not psychologically safe.
Members may not contradict ideas and offer alternatives and you are just missing out so much. A tragic example of this. It can happen when teams are rushed as well. Important when you are working with products that involve safety. Autonomous cars, other technology that you might be trying to roll out too fast that could adversely have a really negative effect and tragic effect.
In 1986, the NASA team was working so hard together to meet the launch deadline for their space shuttle, Challenger, that they didn’t listen to engineers who warned there might be a problem based on the outside temperature. As a sad, tragic consequence, the shuttle disintegrated after the flight killing everybody on board. Really important to make sure you are opening up to different points of view, that you are making that psychologically safe environment for that to happen.
Yeah, reading Madeline’s comment here. “Affinity brings a value, but the end result needs to be diversity, equity and inclusion. An example: a college affiliation may be the same but the people and their profiles can be different. As long as the net effect is not exclusionary. And remains open to new group members.” Yeah. I think it is really important to rethink and open up your in-group to more people than we normally do and really think differently there.
Okay. Another one. Self-licensing, also called self-bargaining. This is the tendency to do one thing and feel you are off the hook for doing more good things or have license to do something less good. If you are working to stay fit and healthy, for example, and eat an apple for lunch and then decide to eat a donut or two in the evening. It doesn’t work that way, right?
Recently this has come out in so many different ways over the last year after George Floyd was murdered. A company puts out a social justice statement in support of a group, donates money to a non-profit, but doesn’t actually change their habits that are harmful to that same group. Changing those harmful habits of inequitable hiring, products that perpetuate stereotypes, marketing, messaging, and other ways that internally are causing harm.
Also, having one Black friend and still making racist comments. Or mentoring one woman while harassing or bullying other women. Performative allyship, in general, is another self-licensing as well. You say you care on Instagram. You say your statement. You put the black square on Instagram, and you think that’s all you need to do and you take license to not really do anything else at all.
Anchoring is another; when your perception heavily relies on the first piece of information about a person. In salary negotiations this is a great example. You might anchor to someone’s previous salary and value them with this number in mind. You are anchored into how other people have paid them, but we know people with underrepresented identities are underpaid. It can perpetuate inequity, it can perpetuate stereotypes, it can perpetuate keeping somebody down in their career.
Yeah, Karen says, “I haven’t heard of the term self-licensing before.” Before this, I did a lot of – I have been doing work around behavior change for a very long time and studied a lot of behavior science. It comes up a lot in public safety campaigns and environmental campaigns as well because people will say: I recycle so I am going to go ahead and buy an SUV. Just as another example, that’s the same kind of thing. It comes up a lot. Yeah.
Examples of anchoring also you perceive somebody by how they are introduced. If somebody was introduced in a biased way you can actually take on that bias about them as well. Something you learn about somebody via social media, you anchor into that and don’t let them become who they are now. Let go of those anchors.
Negativity bias is something that I often struggle with actually. This is a big one for me. The tendency to recall negative or unpleasant memories more readily than positive ones. A lot of people have this. It can come out in receiving a mostly good performance review, but lingering on the negative one or two pieces of feedback which can increase imposter syndrome and you don’t feel good enough, I don’t feel experienced enough even though I have all of this experience – years and years of experience.
Having a great day collaborating with colleagues and experiencing a microaggression that significantly affects the rest of the day. Microaggressions are trauma and we can continue to sit with them and forget the good as well. And the good is important too. If someone has a bad first impression, we may continuously recall that impression despite more positive interactions since then. We still linger on that one negative impression somebody made in that very first meeting.
Does this resonate for you? Have you had negativity bias in your life? Yeah. Yeah. Lots of yeses. Absolutely a lot. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Status quo bias. Status quo bias, also called loss aversion bias:it is a preference for things staying the same. A change is made against the perceived loss of giving it up the status quo. System justification bias actually goes further. You are defending the systemic or cultural status quo even when it is unfair or unjust. We have seen that a lot over the last year, over the last several years where people have system justification bias anchored in the status quo even though it is unfair or unjust.
Yeah. Michelle says words to avoid, “That’s how we have always done it.” Examples of status quo bias, having good camaraderie on the team and weighing a new hire on whether they play well with the team, whether they would be a culture fit for the team. Being comfortable with your own leadership style and being reluctant to change your microaggressions or become a more inclusive leader because it could change how you lead; it could mess things up for you in some way. I see that in coaching that we just talked about.
Believing a business is doing well and that changing how you do things, like increasing diversity, is an unwanted risk. This does come up a lot in startups in particular, in the startup environment in particular.
Just world bias is the tendency to believe that the world is inherently just and that actions have predictable and appropriate consequences. Yeah. This is the world we all want to live in. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. It shows up in the belief of a meritocracy, that people achieve success based on effort, talent and ability alone.
It may take someone with just world bias longer to come to terms with unfairness, injustice and inequity because they believe that is not true, inherently, instinctually. And as a result someone might blame a victim of injustice. They might deny the validity of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Or James Damore might have had just world bias. Or deny major historical injustices and we do see some of that now as well.
And then experienced regret bias. This is the last one we will talk about. This is also called choice switching. When a good decision leads to a bad outcome, it can lead you to decide against the good decision next time. Once bitten, twice shy.
This plays out in the workplace when companies are just starting to work on diversity, and I won’t say they are necessarily working on inclusion or equity yet. They are just working on diversity. They have a “diversity hire” that just doesn’t work out. A diversity hire I am saying in quotes by the way because you should not use those terms when describing anyone. They have a hire that doesn’t work out. Then the recruiter, the team, over even the company, the leadership, is afraid to hire more people with underrepresented identities which is absolutely ridiculous when you think about it. If everyone with an underrepresented identity is the same? A monolith? No. Part of the problem there is probably that they haven’t changed the culture yet.
So another example, you promote one woman into a leadership role who doesn’t succeed in that role and you come to the conclusion that women just were not meant for that role. Lots of other biases come up in the workplace but here are some to think about. I want to switch to interrupting biases because that’s so important.
Just lingering on one chat here. Justin says, “Status quo bias. I hear that a lot in health care. Bad habits passed down to practitioners from unchecked personal practices. Docs who insist on being questioned when asked ‘How do we know this change will work?’ My response is usually, ‘Well, we know what we are doing doesn’t work.’” Absolutely. Thank you, Justin, for sharing that.
Interrupting biases? It is hard. I will say it takes 0.1 second to make a first impression. It is a rapid judgment which was essential when we needed those instincts for survival thousands of years ago. Less helpful now when it can actually lead to incorrect assumptions and biases about people. The speed is very rapid and we can’t stop it in the moment, necessarily. We can do things to interrupt our biases before or while they are happening or after they happen as well.
Self-regulation is a big one for all of us. It just means taking a little bit more time before you make a decision, before you say something, to really check in with your intuition. It can happen – biases can happen in a time crunch, especially, but it happens to us all. We just need to take a little extra time and it will make a big difference. So pause, take a breath, step back. Ask yourself: what I have learned about biases that I can apply to this situation? Then become aware of your intuition. How am I showing up in this moment? What is my intention telling me about how to approach this situation? Really check in with that intuition. And then ask yourself why. Why am I thinking about approaching the situation this way? Why am I thinking about this person this way? What assumptions am I making?
And then acknowledge any biases and interrupt them. How might biases be influencing your approach? If you can put a name to those biases that can make a difference as well. Reframe them in a less biased way. Reframe your response and reframe how you act. You might have to ask yourself what other things you need to do or learn so you can have a less biased approach? How can data help you make a more informed choice? Can I put together a diverse team to create a diverse solution. And once you have that solution, how can I test that?
And respond in an inclusive way. Am I using inclusive verbal language and body language? Am I approaching people in situations with empathy? Am I modeling a growth mindset, which we have talked about before? And may do it again in the next coming episodes. And then reflect. Forgive yourself. And improve. Forgive yourself for biases that you had. You are working on them. Keep moving forward. Work to improve them. Reflect. Did the outcome feel more inclusive? Are there ways I can make future decisions that are more inclusive or less biased?
That’s kind of the individual work. Then there is also some work that we can do to counter biases in the workplace. Pause, humanize and empathize. The self-regulation. Practice this on your team. Work with your team to do this as well. How can you all kind of pause, reflect, make sure you are making decisions in an inclusive way and an unbiased way? And then prime your team. Be aware of biases before you go into a meeting. Before you embark on a project. If you are about to interview a candidate, remind everyone beforehand, you value diversity of experience and to be aware of your biases in that moment.
If you are working on a project together, remind everyone upfront that you want to build a truly inclusive and equitable situation. Ask everyone to keep this in mind. Keep thinking about it as you go through the process. And also normalizing and acknowledging the countering of biases on your team and your workplace. You can do this by modeling it yourself when you catch yourself making a biased statement. Talk openly about it and share how you are going to counter it.
You can also develop team norms to hold each other accountable for checking your biases, asking for feedback, welcoming feedback, questioning when biases are showing up. Where biases might show up. Then supporting each other in that process, in the learning process. That, again, you have to create that psychologically safe environment that we talked about in the last episode. You can also create processes and system interventions to counter biases and hold yourselves accountable.
A big thing here is biases show up so much in team meetings. Have good team meeting processes that are inclusive and that minimize biases. Same for interviews, reference checks, for any interactions where there is something at stake in somebody’s career. How can you create a process that ensures fewer biases – and you can really reduce those biases?
Offer formal and informal learning opportunities as well. Training, allyship, empathy, inclusive leadership training all can make a difference. Think about it for the long term. How can you build behavior change, build culture change over time? And develop those informal learning opportunities as well. How can you build in formal/informal events, ways for people to learn about each other which makes a huge difference as well in reducing biases and that in-group/out-group bias. Just a few things there. Chime in if you have other ideas for sure.
And one more thing I want to talk about briefly is believing vs gaslighting. You have all heard me talk about my experience as an executive in a non-inclusive environment. If you haven’t heard about it, go back and listen to one of my previous episodes. We will link to that in the website for this episode.
A quick example of gaslighting, after a C suite meeting I was in showing my colleagues our high turnover rates and our engagement numbers for women in our firm. It was a week after I had informally brought up the issue to the team for the first time. My goal was to discuss the data together so we could address it and we could still become a great firm for women, which was one of our top business goals.
As we came out of the meeting, after presenting this data, a colleague of mine in the C suite whisked be over to the corner of the room, physically whisked me over to the corner of the room, and said, “You have got to stop with this women thing.” He told me it was all in my head even though I literally just finished showing them it was in the data. He said it was ridiculous, to stop discussing it and to just suck it up.
It actually hit me really hard. He was telling me that the problem wasn’t with me. The problem was with me, sorry. He was telling me the problem was with me and it was not with the way I was being treated or the way other women were being treated in the company. Yeah, it can hit you very significantly. It changed my behavior no question. It changed how I showed up.
Gaslighting in the workplace can be conscious or unconscious. It can take the form of denying, discrediting, minimizing the impact of trauma from inequity, blaming someone for being mistreated or abused, convincing someone experiencing microaggressions, and/or the people around them that the experience is all in their head. It can be damaging over time and severely affect self-esteem and make them question their reality.
During extensive gaslighting of women during the Me Too movement, people started using the hashtag #BelieveWomen. It happens in the medical world where a doctor can minimize, ignore, mistreate and misdiagnose a patient. It means we are often not listening with empathy and we haven’t been working to value someone’s unique experiences. We might be comparing their experiences to our own and how we might act in a similar situation. But we have to be open to their experience with compassion and empathy which we talked about last time as well.
So, lots in here. You will hear overly sensitive, dramatic, angry, insecure, not a good culture fit, thin skinned, taking it personally, somebody is too emotional, overreacting, reading too much into it – all these things are a form of gaslighting.
Last reminder is that an ally learns, shows empathy and takes action. We learn to better understand each other. We become aware of unintentional harm we might be causing. We make corrections. We continuously grow as inclusive leaders. Yeah. Keep taking action. What action will you take as a result of that – of this, of learning this? What action will you take?
Michelle says, “It is disappointing that data doesn’t convince people.” Yeah. Heidi asks, “How do you think of gaslighting as the same or different as minimizing an issue?” Gaslighting is kind of the personalization of minimizing an issue. Minimizing an issue, like for example systemic racism, is gaslighting an entire group of people, right? Excuse me.
Yeah. OK. I just want to mention one more time. It is available for preorder. Ally.cc/book. Upcoming episodes are focused on recognizing and overcoming microaggressions which are – they build on biases. It is all interrelated. Excuse me. Thank you all for your questions and your thoughts as I went through here. I have a bug in my throat. Biases that was it. We will add some resources. They will be in the follow-up of this episode.
Thank you again to First Tech Federal Credit Union for their sponsorship. We will see you in two weeks. In two weeks, we will be talking about Recognizing and Overcoming Microaggressions. A two-part series. In the meantime, there are 49 other episodes now. If you haven’t listened or watched them all, I encourage you to check some out. There are amazing people we have had on the show. Amazing gems. Lots of wisdom there. You can find other episodes at ally.cc.
As an ally, you can actually help me, buy the book, of course. But find this episode on your favorite podcast, platform or YouTube and review it, like it, subscribe to it. We could definitely use more iTunes reviews. If you happen to be on iTunes, look it up and give us a quick review, that would be helpful. And hit the share button as well and share with your colleagues.
Thank you all for the work you do and joining us every other week in the summer and we will be back in September full-time each week. Thank you all. Appreciate you. Have a wonderful rest of your week. We will see you in a couple of weeks.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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