By Jodi Detjen and Daffany Chan
I was speaking recently with a group of mid-level business leaders about the return from COVID. They were mentioning how their senior leadership was making plans while ignoring the implications of schools not reopening this fall. The people I spoke with described how unaware these executives were — how they had no idea about the struggles parents are experiencing right now, as they juggle work and childcare without community support.
By failing to consider the experiences of vulnerable employees, these business leaders demonstrate privilege at play. Though privileges sound like something someone gets when they are “good,” they’re actually the hidden ways that people have advantages and opportunity over others. Addressing privilege is essential to leveling the playing field at work — but often times, leaders don’t account for inequities when making decisions that will affect their employees.
So how can leaders take a more inclusive approach when managing diverse teams? Before we even get to ‘doing something,’ let’s start by developing empathy. When you approach a situation with empathy, you aim to step into the shoes of another to understand their feelings and perspectives. A good way to start understanding the experience of someone who is not privileged is by becoming more aware of what’s going on around you. Here are 3 ways you can use observation to uncover hidden biases throughout your day.
The next time you’re in a Zoom meeting, do a count. Who talks and for how long? Who asks questions? Who types in the chat area? Who gets interrupted? Who gets asked questions? Once you’re done with your mini study, tally the results. Analyze it by gender, race, and power. What do you notice? Rate the decision. Then decide how good the decision was and how it might have been done differently. Take the time to consider how it felt for the person who was interrupted and for the person who asked all the questions.
Repeat the process for a couple of meetings so you have some data. If you feel comfortable, share the results with your team. Our guess is that you’ll see biased behavior pretty quickly. Some biases you may identify include gender, age, and culture.
When you’re out at a restaurant, on a walk, or on vacation, stay aware of your surroundings. Observe the level of diversity. Where are people from? Who are others grouped with? Observe how men and women interact with each other. Observe how others respond to people who are different from them. Observe the differences in social class. What does this tell you?
Observe yourself. What is your reaction when you are “on camera” with people that are more powerful than you? Less powerful? Are you in a Zoom meeting of people that are homogenous or in a room that’s diverse? Notice your thoughts and reactions.
Observing our surroundings helps us start to see what is hidden. We notice how others and we behave. We notice our own reactions. We start to notice things that we were previously unaware of.
With the data that you’ve gathered, you’ll have a better picture of in-group and out-group behaviors in your daily sphere. The next step to developing an inclusive lens is to get curious. Once we begin to notice the privileges people have and don’t have, we can start to inquire about why these inequalities exist and what we can do about them. You can then use what you’ve learned to take action to create an inclusive workplace. You’ll be better equipped to use empathy when making decisions for employees, acknowledging the unique struggles and perspectives each team member brings to the table. Consider building the observations you’ve made into regular measurement so that they become a conscious part of running the business.
As an inclusive leader, you’ll foster more collaboration, engagement, and creativity in your team members. It all starts with waking up and widening your purview to the hidden biases around you.
You can take our Inclusive Leader assessment to get an idea of where your current mindset fits with the inclusion taxonomy. To learn how to address workplace diversity, check out our asynchronous course, Difficult Conversations about Race and Gender, and our Inclusive Leadership programs. Contact Us to learn more.