Chastened but determined, we picked up our mobile phones at Kaneene’s urging and navigated to Project Implicit to take the Aggregate Implicit Association Test (IAT) that measures subconscious racial biases. I didn’t have time to finish it, but Kaneene clarified that “there’s no such thing as failing or passing this test. This is not about being wrong or right. This tells you that you are a human being exposed to constant messages about different cultures.”
According to Kaneene, combined data from the test found that 76 percent of respondents associated males with career and females with family. Seventy-six percent of people associated males with science and females with the arts. Seventy-five percent prefer white people to black people. The good news was that we can do something about this.
“Small amounts of bias over time have a disproportionate impact of bias on a group of people,” said Kaneene. “The outcome of making changes is not perfection, but progress. Know that if you change something, over time you can move the needle.”
Awareness leads to action
Kaneene suggested becoming scientists of our own behavior to understand what drives us. Ask questions and don’t make assumptions. With massive amounts of information to process, we can be predisposed towards stereotypes to make sense of the world. Those short-cuts can lead to inaccurate negative perceptions about people. One actual example was a situation where executives were conducting performance reviews and assumed a female employee wouldn’t want to be considered for a promotion because she had a baby.
“The collective assumption was that this woman wouldn’t want the job opportunity,” said Kaneene. “It’s critical as leaders to sponsor people who aren’t in the room by saying why don’t we ask her if she’s interested. Power isn’t bi-directional. All of us will be a bystander to someone having bias used against them. Support those people. Help them advocate for themselves. If a woman is in a meeting and can’t get a word in edgewise, interrupt the interrupters if she can’t to help her share her ideas.”
Everyone’s heads were nodding as people brought up recognizable situations and suggested other ways of handling all kinds of implicit and explicit bias. How many of us haven’t spoken up when the same woman at a weekly meeting is told to make lunch reservations every time? A simple solution would be to have everyone take turns performing this task. For women or anyone not in a position of power, it can mean letting go of popularity by doing what’s right. Educating peers can be effective ‒ not to blame and shame ‒ but to call attention to biased behaviors. A colleague may not realize how their comments have a negative ripple effect on the team. Above, all resist classifications about anyone, whether they involve gender, race, age or any superfluous attribute or characteristic.
Making progress against workplace bias may seem like a monumental undertaking, but it’s one challenge organizations can’t ignore.
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