July 13, 2020
By Evelina Nedlund, Employee Benefit News
Diversity and inclusion are two important goals for many companies, but employers’ efforts toward it can be undermined by bias — conscious and unconscious — in the workplace.
Workplace bias takes many forms, such as microaggressions, and results in employees being unfairly excluded from experiences and opportunities.
“A lot of microaggressions happen at work, and that is how a lot of our unconscious biases play out in the workplace,” says Risha Grant, a diversity, inclusion and bias expert. “For people of color, when you read and hear about cases like Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — unfortunately, our feelings don’t wait at home until we get back from work in the evening; we come to work with that.”
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Grant, who has worked with and consulted companies like Macy’s, Samsung and Morgan Stanley, says that race, religion and politics are often taboo subjects in the workplace, but race relations are an important topic to address.
When employees are subject to offensive or hurtful comments at work, or when a colleague is showing a lack of empathy, it makes it very difficult for them to give their best and meet company goals, Grant says.
From becoming aware of our unconscious biases to addressing them, Grant shared steps employers and employees can take to eliminate bias in the workplace.
How can we become aware of our unconscious biases?
Figure out who makes you uncomfortable and why — and accept it. [When I do public speaking], I ask my audience to imagine that they’re on a flight that’s completely full, but that middle seat next to them is open. Who don’t you want to sit there? Because we look down the aisle and say “oh, I hope this person doesn’t sit here.”
It can be because they’re overweight, have facial tattoos all over them or wearing a turban or a hijab. There are so many reasons that we don’t want to sit next to people, but if you continue to ask more questions, you begin to get down to it. Maybe you don’t want to sit next to the person with the facial tattoo because they make you uncomfortable, because you automatically start thinking that they’ve been to jail or something like that. We take these stereotypes, and we put people in a box very quickly, unless you ask yourself who makes you uncomfortable and why.
If you know that you feel really uncomfortable around Black people or Latino people or white men — whatever it is — then you can start to really assess what that is for you and then you attribute it. You can ask yourself “So is it my issue or their fault?” It’s your issue. We spend a lot of time trying to get people to move in the direction that we think they should be, but trying to get a perfect stranger to dim their lights to make us comfortable is ridiculous.
Then I ask people to identify where that feeling comes from — is it social norms or family issues? Because the more deeply rooted it is, the more difficult it is to get over. But once you identify your bias, you can own them. Once you start to break down those barriers by talking to other people, you start to let go of some of the negative ways that you feel. [It’s also important that your] company backs you up, because once you’re doing the work — they have to have inclusive policies in place that have consequences for people who are violating those policies.