We are all wired to make automatic assumptions about people.
Biases are a natural part of our thinking. These mental shortcuts are necessary for human survival as it helps us sort through infinite information to make quick decisions. Sadly, the same process can also lead to flawed judgements and actions.
Biases pose big challenges on our mission to build an inclusive company culture. A 2017 study showed that those who perceived biased judgements either towards them or their colleagues were twice as likely to not feel proud of working for their company, three times as likely to think of leaving within the year, and four times as likely to report feeling alienated at work(1).
While it is impossible to eliminate all of our biases, there are some ways our biases can be managed to limit their damaging effects.
Acknowledge your biases:
Acknowledging that we all have biases is the first step towards working on them. Ask yourself “What biases might I have?”, “What impact does this have on how I act and what do I do about it?”. One-to-one coaching is an effective way to build awareness of our biases and blind spots. Through constant dialogue and accountability, it can challenge us to overcome counterproductive patterns of thinking and acting.
Challenge assumptions and biases by nurturing a sense of curiosity. Being curious pushes us to question our fixed mindsets and assumptions, and become aware of our own privileges. This helps us cultivate deeper connections with people by asking insightful questions, truly listening to responses and building relationships.
Despite our best intentions, our messages can get misinterpreted. Part of successful communication is being able to adapt our style in order to get our point across while still maintaining positive relationships. Practicing inclusive language can help communicate more effectively and sensitively.
Use gender neutral language as much as possible, such as switching from words like “chairman” to “chairperson”, and address people with their right pronouns. These are a few ways we can ensure we don’t use words or phrases that communicate stereotypes.
Seeking out people who are from different backgrounds to us or our close circle can help expand our outlook. The more we expose ourselves to different perspectives, the more we can educate ourselves about the world around us.
By working on broadening our mindsets, drawing well thought out conclusions from existing facts and norms as well as constantly questioning how we and others around us make decisions, we can contribute to an inclusive work culture in which diversity can thrive.
(1) Hewlett, S., Rashid, R. and Sherbin, L., 2017. When Employees Think the Boss Is Unfair, They’re More Likely to Disengage and Leave. [online] Harvard Business Review.