Archive for the 'racial' Category

The Hidden Upside of Bias Training

Have you ever found yourself listening to someone who has just said, or is about to say, something that is insulting – even if unintentionally? Has that person ever been you? If so, chances are an unconscious element is behind the prejudice. The good news is that it’s normal, the bad news is you might still get caught up in prejudice.

I am not racistHarvard’s now famous (or infamous) Implicit Association Test has become a popular tool to reveal how, even with the best of intentions, we hold prejudices that we are unaware of. If you have not tried it, the self-test is here.

To argue that the IAT is actually a reliable diagnostic of your personal unconscious bias would be a step too far. Not only is it self-assessed, if you do it more than a couple of times, you will notice your scores change. However, it does reveal some of the ways people can be influenced by their surroundings and culture. It’s perfectly normal, for example, for men to carry sexist assumptions about masculinity as well as femininity, and vice versa.  We often apply prejudices unconsciously to ourselves as well as others.

Fortunately, just because we carry some unconscious biases does not mean we are intentionally racist or sexist etc.  Nor does this excuse us from not caring about our actions toward others. And it’s the actions rather than the thoughts that I am most interested in working with. Chances are you might be acting biased without realising it. If so, there are simple things you can do to reduce the tendency to act in an unconcsiously biased way, see my previous blog for ways to ACT to reduce bias.

I’d now like to look at another way we can work to reduce potential biases, that is:

Context matters! And we must leverage that on unconscious bias trainings and in the workplace.

Of course, one of the challenges we have when working with the unconscious elements of our bias is that the unconscious is very difficult to pin down. Beyond that universal challenge, our tendency to act on our prejudices varies moment to moment and is contextual. People are rarely bigoted all the time, hence the expression, “I am not racist, one of my best friends is ‘xxx’…” Even self-confessed bigots can find themselves unresponsive to their own bias and think of reasons why some people or situations are exempt from their rules and assumptions about others.  You may hear statements like:

Oh, but you don’t count as <insert minority status here>…

And they will act with less bias toward them. Context matters.

Conversely, some situations are more likely to promote our biases than others. These moments are usually situations where we feel threatened, uncomfortable, or enter an unfamiliar environment. Especially when the external environment appears unsafe, our biases can skyrocket – which is why we might be more biased while driving when there is a “near miss” or wayward driver, rather than when we are at work with colleagues.

So what are the equivalents of being caught by “prejudices while driving” in the workplace?  People tend to cling to their biases in situations that are stressful to them – which is often the very moment that the biases need to take a backseat. At work, this means we have to be more wary of bias when some one joins the team or when we are hiring. The unconscious elements of bias can also increase when the stakes get higher and there is pressure on a situation. These can include: critical meetings; job interviews; moments when products or plans haven’t worked as planned; or when there is a significant change in the market.

Fortunately, most effective workplaces already employ an effective unconscious bias reducer – a focus on common goals. The greater the need for cooperation toward a common goal, the more likely people are to focus on effective behaviours rather than assumed prejudices. While these common goals do not necessarily eradicate bias, they can bring people together in ways that day-to-day life does not. This may also explain why succesful companies have more diverse leaders – they have a relentless focus on goals.

People are also social beings and public environments can encourage us to take more responsiblity for our actions. This may also account for the “road-rage” bias that arises for people who are otherwise friendly at work – chances are that the commuter is not going to see them again!  Accountability and responsibility cannot be ignored when looking to create a more inclusive culture.

Finally, the significant factor that reduces bias is exposure to people different from oneself. This can also happen easily at work and being in more diverse environments has been shown to reduce people’s prejudices.  Provided people actually spend time with people they perceive as different to themselves, diversity is one of the biggest mitigators of bias. This is not the same as moving to a new country where one lives amongst fellow ex-pats, it also requires interacting with people seen as “different.”

And this one of the secondary upsides to unconscious bias training. While the tools and processes that people and companies adopt can reduce people acting on bias, so too does spending time with different people working on a tricky subject.

Unconscious bias training can provide such an opportunity: It is both an engaging and interesting topic as well as being a tricky and provocative one.

Having people come together and learn more about other people’s points of view can help increase empathy as well as dispel the armour of prejudice that we all bring to situations that are new to us. It is therefore critical that such sessions are friendly, fun and voluntary.  In fact, it has been shown that compulsory bias training can actually backfire.

With this in mind, it is crucial that unconscious bias training section for sharing personal experience within a diverse group of invited participants in order to gain the most  successful outcomes of the training. Therefore, when looking to build an effective unconscious bias intervention, ensure to include the following three things:

  1. Diverse and willing attendees with time built-in to share personal experience and stories in a meaningful way
  2. Simple tools that are not too mentally taxing and are easy to implement
  3. Back it up with internal processes that help nudge people away from their implicit biases

So while it might be tenuous to think we can completely understand, let alone eradicate our unconscious biases, we can find ways of overcoming some of the prejudices that keep people unnecessarily separate from one another. Unconscious bias training at work can do that. In my own experience, it has been listening to views of people from different backgrounds to myself that has increased my willingness to not only understand, but engage with people of different backgrounds to me. This I believe is a secondary but crucial element to effective unconscious bias training.

I would love to hear your thoughts and any experiences you have of unconscious bias training in the comments below.


Why the Alt-Right won’t go away

White Protester

Image from NPR

And neither rational arguments nor censorship will make it do so.

The recent furore (not Fuhrer) in Charlottesville and other US flash points has triggered a global wave of discussion, encouraging many people to express opinions about race who have not done so before, particularly white people. This is long overdue. Here is my view – both appreciative and critical comments below would be most welcome.

Point One: Arguments based on facts are not going to work.

As with global warming, we have already seen the dismal failure of science/fact-based arguments to successfully inspire personal, corporate and government action to produce change. If many of the scientists studying global warming do little to change their behaviour, what can we expect from the rest of the population?  Knowing, or even believing, the facts alone does not always change behaviour. And it certainly won’t work here.

As we move to the messier world of human interaction, the facts are even harder to pin down and therefore, harder to use to show those interested in “ethnic purity” the shortcomings of their arguments. The videos from recent events, particularly Vice’s “Race and Terror” documentary, reveal some convenient omissions of history by the alt-right to justify their racial hatred – both recent (declining wages) and older (wealth from slavery).

And with google, it doesn’t take long to find omissions or just ignore facts presented by those with differing views. (This argument can also be thrown at the left). As they themselves profess, the alt-right’s position is not about “facts”, it is about safety, having a voice and power (or loss of it) – just listen to Trump.

Their voices are, for the most part, emotionally driven grievances that are as much about being heard, wanting justice and the reduction of personal threat, both real and perceived. It is a point of irony that, like their nemesis “SJWs,” the alt-right want social justice! And like their rivals, they sound more like desperate teenagers than the superior race they claim to be.

The point here is that emotional vitriol rarely listens to facts alone, if at all. Note to the left: Stop using facts alone to shut down the alt-right! Instead adopt the language they understand, like Jobs, Safety and Freedom of the Individual as these things are not only crucial, they are supported by a fair and egalitarian society.

Point Two: Censorship is not the answer

Shutting down rallies, exclusion from debates and firing of individuals (unless because of their competence) will not work either.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • The internet (still fairly open) will allow discussions to continue, but drive it underground. And like most online discussions, it will continue inside an echo-chamber of re-enforcing beliefs. As an experiment, I recommend spending time on a website dedicated to a value system different to your own and look at how little contrary evidence is presented. Then reflect on what this will do for people looking for surety in a complex world? You may also like to apply such analysis personally… To counter this, I believe the grievances of the alt-right need to be understood, and for that to happen they need to be heard. This will:
    1. Release some of the pressure that leads to violence,
    2. Meet their need to be heard and
    3. Show up the many flaws in their logic.
  • Exclusion from public discourse will add fuel to the belief that the left and liberals are “brain-washing communists that seek to stupefy the public” and turn us all into “docile sheep” at best, and “enslaved in a gulag” at worst. While sanctioning of abusive behaviour ought not be tolerated, ostracizing the alt-right from debate will further convince them that they have a legitimate cause. That said, any violence condoned by either side should be shut down.

So what?

What needs to be understood is that the audiences of the alt-right positions are already feeling marginalised. Radical voices that are shut down will create a further affinity with those already feeling excluded, and actually increase their appeal. Not only that, it encourages the need for an extreme response as their voices are further pushed from the public discourse. And this is why the alt-right will not go away.

Another reason why it will not go away is that most of the possible futures currently presented, both hopeful and apocalyptic, show less of a place for white men than they did in the past. While logically correct, this will ultimately feel threatening. (The rebukes to an all-female cast of the recent Ghostbusters film is one of many examples where anger rises when the role of white men is being questioned.) This is inevitably being felt by the population to a degree they have never felt before. There is not a place at the table as there once was. And although many would agree that this may be a good thing, it’s hard to see that as a white man right now.

Of course, this experience is familiar territory to women and people of colour before that, and still is. However, the challenge of unquestioned assumptions of power that go to the heart of white male identity is not only disorienting, it is destabilising. In order to find redress to this threat to power some blame Islam for the deterioration of Christian insights (even though its far more likely that science is to blame for that); Or “gender fluidity” for destabilising the role of the family as the back bone of society (which again may find its cause in the economics of western nations that require the ideal worker to be on 24/7), the list goes on.

All of these moments are asking men (and mostly white men) to find out who they are without their position and self-worth being handed to them by the machinations of white history. It is an important question that men need to start asking – who are they without power? Without their god-given/biological-given/socially-given place at the head of the table?

This is the question that the alt-right proposes to answer to, or rather seeks to avoid by changing the conversation to force things back how they were “when things were good/safe/clear” – MAGA! Maybe you deserve to be there, and maybe like many others, it is not your place, let’s see what happens…

This truly is an uncomfortable pill to swallow. Unfortunately, aggression will often follow and we still live in a world where access to violence is more available to men. In fact, the dogma of the alt-right is that if you don’t have a place, you can have your role fulfilled by becoming a fighter, whether that be for traditions or social justice. What better way to channel frustration than through violence and anger – after all, it makes you feel like a man! (or should I say human?) And like feminism or BLM, the alt-right demands will not go away until they get a seat at the table.

For me, part of the answer is about recognising the positive role of men in the world and not just the negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated by both sides of the argument. People who are kind, clear, strong and supportive – no matter what your background.

Another step is to understand the position of those feeling excluded – a point Hillary Clinton missed so abysmally in her “deplorables” statement. Without either of these things happening, the alt-right’s cause and following will remain on a fuse.