Unconscious Bias in a Post COVID19 World
Introduction: Why now?
I have been educating and training people on Unconscious Bias for nearly a decade: this is not a new conversation. I drafted this paper on Unconscious Bias prior to the murder of George Floyd. While racism and police brutality are by no means new topics, that particular incident drew a line in the sand for a lot of people. I’ve noticed two significant shifts: It has brought a much-needed spotlight on the racism and systemic racism experienced by POC around the world; and, made even the strongest of allies think twice as they try to find the right ways to demonstrate support for a community in need. Clients and friends are asking me to proofread blogs, memos and Facebook posts. Since March of this year, the demand for anti-racism has increased dramatically as it’s taken centre stage in the media thanks to significant protests in the US and around the world. Education on Unconscious Bias is more important and relevant than ever.
Current events: COVID-19 and racism
COVID-19 has brought elements of racism and systemic racism to the forefront. For example:
- COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the black community and other minorities,
- Incidents of racial discrimination towards the Asian community have increased, similar to those seen during the SARS outbreak.
The challenges this place on individuals, employees, and our culture is like nothing we’ve seen in our lives. The impact of the pandemic has affected almost all elements of our daily personal and professional lives. The protests following the murder of George Floyd have been seen around the world, highlighting the systemic racism that perpetuates these crimes and allows them to largely go unpunished. However, we are starting to see some discussion and actions from leaders. While the necessary change isn’t going to happen overnight, we can absolutely say that the momentum has increased.
What we need now is a way forward, and in order to find that, we need to first unpack our understanding of racism. In this article I will explore how unconscious and implicit biases can result in racial discrimination, and how we can manage those biases. I am also going to discuss allyship, and actions we can take to create the change we need to see. Taking my cue from Dr Bonnie Henry, I would like to approach this topic with kindness and compassion.
In challenging times, I find it helpful to look back on history to see how we’ve coped in the face of tragedy. As a white woman I am able to access privilege solely on the colour of my skin. As a lesbian, I share the experience of “otherness” with many different minorities. While the lived experiences of being black or being gay are not the same, I have an understanding of what it is like to live as someone who is not “centred” in our society, or not fitting in with a prescribed way of being. It’s with this understanding I’ve been reflecting on the Stonewall Riots which took place over 5 days in 1969, and are credited with being one of the most important events leading up to the gay liberation movement and our modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights – a movement that has directly affected me and my family. While the media coverage of the protests and discrimination can be hard to digest, I am slightly comforted by the idea that movements are messy – but in the past they have gotten us what we need.
What is unconscious bias?
Exploring unconscious bias is a great starting point for learning and understanding the biases we have and how they impact racial discrimination.
So what is it? Unconscious bias is an inclination or preference formed without reasonable justification that can prevent judgment from being balanced or even-handed. It tends to result in prejudice in favor or against a person or group. Research suggests bias cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed.
Ways to manage unconscious bias
The first thing we need to do to manage unconscious bias is to recognize and accept that we all have biases. The key is to learn to manage them. There are a variety of different ways we can do this; the two most important areas of focus are: research, and sources of information. It may seem like these two are one in the same, but they are not.
In this context, research means to study different topics to broaden our understanding of the systems that exist around us. For example, research shows us that studying privilege systems can strengthen our compassion. Research also extends to understanding our own experiences which is further discussed in allyship, below.
We are constantly influenced by different sources of information: parents, friends, community, teachers, media, social media, etc. Examining, and importantly, broadening our sources of information should be considered key in managing bias. Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that we can consume all sources of information, so this is where our critical thinking skills come into play. When reviewing sources of information go through the following actions:
You may notice that I have deliberately refrained from listing any actions that require conclusions to be drawn. This is because now is not the time for answers, it’s the time to listen and learn. Meaningful conclusions will naturally follow.
Consider using data to measure diversity and disparities – we do it for most everything else. Businesses do not simply say “oh I feel like sales are great this quarter” – They look to the data! The same can, and should be applied to diversity and inclusion. Research shows us that using data helps to prevent unintended discrimination by measuring disparities, is helpful in managing bias. Data also gives you a way to measure the change you want to see in the workplace.
Now is a GREAT time to call on allies. Allyship can mean something different to everyone, depending on your relationship to the issue at hand.
An ally is someone who is willing to take action in support of another person to remove barriers that person faces, either in the workplace or community. Allyship should be considered a lifelong process. Rather than a one off gesture, it is a process – a coming together of people to build relationships based on trust, accountability and consistency. It does not mean to centre yourself in the issue. Sometimes it means something as simple as just listening.
Listen to other’s stories. Empathy is powerful.
Ways to demonstrate Allyship
Our sense of community can help guide what our allyship looks like as it relates to awareness, exploration, listening and learning.
Awareness is key to understanding the stereotypes and bias you may have – including internally – for example, think of the ‘model minority myth’ (stereotype based on the narrative that Asian Canadian/USA kids are “whiz kids”, good at music, Tiger Moms, and so on).
One of the significant problems with this stereotype is that it erases the differences among individuals and becomes a barrier to racial justice. It’s often used to downplay the impact of racial discrimination, and pits minorities against each other, creating a hierarchy of minorities. It is imperative to challenge this stereotype by understanding that while the collective is important, individual differences still exist. We can then highlight those differences and celebrate them.
Recently there has been discussion of ‘virtue signalling’ on social media. Virtue signalling is the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings. It gives the user a sense of being morally superior. Ideally, we should beware of virtue signalling, and if you must do something performative, particularly on social media, link to real action (e.g. providers of accurate information, recognized charities, or elevate the voices of those not heard).
In my opinion, strengthening our sense of empathy is the best way to understand other peoples’ experiences. To do so, we need to explore and learn. If we explore the concepts of white privilege and white fragility for example, we arrive at the understanding that being white doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it hard. This is discussed further below.
Seeking out new sources of information is an easy and effective way to explore new concepts. This is also an effective way of seeing the landscape of perspectives on race. An article I found particularly interesting as a white person was “20+ allyship actions for Asians to show up for the Black Community Right Now” written by Michelle Kim and published in Medium. This article discusses the perspective of Asian Americans as a minority, and details her experience, providing some great actions for people to take as individuals.
What should you do with white privilege?
White privilege is the concept that there is societal privilege for white people over non-white people, especially if they are all under the same social, political or economic circumstances at a period in time (see, for example, the work of Cheryl I Harris and George Lipsitz). For those benefiting from white privilege, there are a few actions to be taken to even the playing field.
Firstly, white privilege can be used to confront racism. Of course, this is not a call for people to put themselves in harm’s way, rather, it serves as a reminder that there are situations where we can use our privilege to intervene and support anti-racism.
Secondly, white people can talk to their peers about the barriers to success non-white people face. Racism against the Asian community is not the Asian community’s problem to fix, nor is it the Black communities to fix. This is a time to collectively recognize the hurt and disrespect that has been caused and start to take some steps forward.
Sometimes we need reminding what it means to listen. We listen when we give someone our undivided attention. We listen when we don’t interrupt. We listen when we don’t offer an alternative or judgement. We listen when we show the speaker that we understand what they said. And we really show them that we’re listening when we remember what they said.
Listening doesn’t mean giving the answers. Right now, a lot of people are hurting, and they need to be heard. Sometimes the message is hard to hear, noting the importance of a healthy balance to hearing about other people’s trauma and taking care of yourself. We need to treat each other with compassion and kindness.
Reflecting back on the actions we can take to demonstrate allyship, it is clear that allyship is ongoing – it is a relationship that you develop and nurture.
Steps moving forward
When it comes to managing unconscious bias in a world that is experiencing a pandemic and a culture reckoning, there are a few key steps to moving forward: exploring our sources of information, developing a sense of allyship and taking care of yourself, and using data to measure the change you want to see.
Seek out different content and sources of information – critical thinking is a great skill to develop, particularly when consuming media. Do your research. Think about what allyship means to you. Conversely, explore the support systems that are available. Take care of each other – and take a break. Consider having social media “off” days.
It would be a mistake not to mention our right to vote within the context of supporting cultural change. On the issue of voting, LaTosha Brown, the Co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, spoke on Pod Save America recently. She discussed the idea that young people don’t care about voting, countering that it’s not that young people don’t want to vote – young people, particularly of young people of colour, don’t see a benefit to themselves if they vote. They don’t see themselves in the system, represented in the government, that’s the disconnect. Young people, particularly people of colour and minorities need to be engaged in the political process: votes drive policy. Voting is one of the best ways to be seen in a democracy.
The journey to a diverse and inclusive community and workplace is a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding our own unconscious biases is the first step. One thing I’m doing to power the momentum of our current movement is to check in with my allyship. I set calendar reminders for every 2 weeks with a note about what anti-discrimination means to me and what I should be doing every day or week. Reminding ourselves and our networks about the importance of managing our biases and advancing diverse voices is key to our D&I journeys.
To start a conversation with Elisabeth about unconscious bias and your D&I journey, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dignii’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Elisabeth Cooke has been appointed CEO! Adrian Jonklaas will move over to Chief Product Officer as he continues to lead the development of Dignii’s technology product together with our engineering team. This change in roles has been long planned and best reflects the nature of each officers’ areas of responsibilities and positions Dignii for rapid growth in 2021.
Everyone is talking about racism, or more importantly, the need for anti-racism. The talk has moved beyond person to person conversations, and we are now seeing companies and politicians join the chorus, calling for significant change. It’s a monumentally positive development, but the answer to that call – the change that is needed to combat racism – is complex: Changing attitudes is one thing, breaking down systems that have discriminated against some groups of people for generations while providing significant advantage to others, is quite another.
Companies are in a unique position to advance anti-racism and have a positive impact on the lives of their employees and customers, by focusing on diversity and inclusion within their workplaces. Not only is this the moral thing to do, it also has a strong business case: There is approximately 15 years’ worth of research clearly proving that diverse and inclusive companies do better. They are more innovative, and more agile – two attributes in very high demand right now. It involves work, but there are no business cases that say the status quo is a better option.
So, if your company is serious about advancing diversity and inclusion here are three areas for action:
- Education and Training
Provide education and training – and value it. Make sure everyone in the company from C suite to intern takes part. But don’t stop there, look for D&I knowledge and awareness on resumes and applications. Build out your internal resources and develop a culture of learning. Set yourself up to have lasting impacts from education and training.
- Measure your Diversity
Use data to see your strengths and weaknesses. Set goals and measure your successes and assess your progress frequently. Get access to the data that not only shows you what groups are employed at your company, but what groups are missing.
Target your recruiting to reach diverse candidates. Strengthen your management paths internally.
Collectively, we at Dignii have been advancing diversity and inclusion for decades. We are a mission driven company – we elevate dignity in the workplace. Our software solutions and professional services help companies to increase team performance and increase team innovation.
To start a conversation with Elisabeth about getting serious about anti-racism in your workplace, she can be reached at email@example.com.
Diversity has been building momentum in business for nearly 20 years. We have had significant changes in law that identify the importance of diversity and inclusion, for instance, the express inclusion of ‘gender identity and gender expression’ and Community Benefits Agreements in BC. Helping to fuel the enactment and compliance of that legislation has been 15 years’ worth of powerful business cases articulating the financial and cultural value of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Publicly listed companies in Canada are facing an increase in the legal requirements regarding reporting on diversity on boards and senior management.
In late 2014, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) published “comply or explain” rules regarding women in director and executive officer positions in publicly listed companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). These requirements were codified in the National Instrument 58-101 (the Disclosure Requirements), thereby creating an annual positive duty for issuers in participating jurisdictions (all but BC and PEI) to disclose female representation. The requirements go a step further, requiring issuers to disclose if they have issued policies relating to female representation, term limits, and targets and mechanisms to address female representation in director and executive officer roles. If issuers do not adopt any such mechanisms or consider female representation more broadly, they must explain their reasons for doing so, thus creating a “comply or explain” rule.
More recently, the British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) published a notice and request for comments asking for comment on the gender diversity Disclosure Requirement in NI 58-101. Notably, BC based TSX-listed and other non-venture issuers must comply with the Disclosure Requirements as they do report in at least one of the Participating Jurisdictions (i.e. all but PEI).
The BCSC’s request for comment on gender diversity tells us one thing – the Commission is focusing on how the disclosure process can be improved and what mechanisms and governance policies are satisfactory to demonstrate gender diversity on publicly listed companies on the TSX.
New Reporting Changes as of January 2020
As of 1 January 2020, Canada became the first jurisdiction in the world to require the disclosure of diversity beyond gender. Currently, all federally incorporated public companies in Canada must report on their policies and practices relating to board of directors and senior management, and, going a step further, they must include the percentage of people in those roles who are women, Aboriginal persons, members of visible minorities, and persons with disabilities.
How to Measure and Report on Diversity
This is where we can help. Our products help you to measure diversity and improve inclusion. We safely and securely measure data using evidence-based research to get a real picture of diversity and employee engagement. Essentially, act as the ‘go between’ – a trusted third party for employers and employees. Companies face significant challenges trying to gather this data on their own, including: compliance issues, data security, and expertise in diversity and inclusion. Not to mention the fact that employees can be reluctant to share that information with their employers! We go a step further than other companies and help you identify problems and create real solutions that help your company reach your diversity goals. We also use Canadian servers and comply with all Canadian privacy legislation and global best practices.
When it comes to reporting on diversity we can provide you with the most robust data points you need for reporting and help you build the map to achieve your goals for the future.
Elisabeth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Dignii’s last blog post, Elisabeth, the Co-founder of Dignii, talked about extending the discussion around Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace to include “elevating the dignity of the individual” – which is Dignii’s purpose! – by respecting and valuing each employee fully for who they are. Elisabeth expounds that this requires embracing diversity in all its shapes and forms and recognizing the myriad intersections that represent the sum total of each of us, who we are physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and based on our life experience.
This week I’m writing about the link between employee engagement – Dignii’s core product focus – and Diversity & Inclusion.
To me, the intuitive link is clear: from my experience as an employee, it is when I feel respected and valued at work that I am the most engaged. My best experience of engagement was when the owners of a consultancy trusted me to handle their biggest client; I was incredibly motivated and put in 50 to 60 hour weeks fully absorbed in my work.
The opposite is also very familiar: there were instances of jobs where I lost sight of how my role contributed to the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization and essentially felt left out and not valued. The result was that even my normally good work ethic was ground down and I gradually burned out and left. Unfortunately, we all have similar stories.
Let’s move from the personal intuitive understanding of employee engagement to examine the science behind it.
What is Employee Engagement? A Positive Occupational Health Psychology Perspective
According to Professor Schaufeli*, one of the World’s leading authorities on employee engagement, employee engagement is: “a positive, fulfilling, work related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption; [whereby vigor refers to] high levels of energy and mental resilience; [dedication refers to] being strongly involved in one’s work [and] experiencing a sense of significance; [and absorption refers to] being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work.” (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, and Bakker, 2002: 74)
Professor Schaufeli developed this definition of engagement based on engagement being defined as the opposite of burnout in certain psychological models. For example, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of General Hospital Psychiatry (6th Edition): “Burnout is a pathologic syndrome in which prolonged occupational stress leads to emotional and physical depletion and ultimately to the development of maladaptive behaviors (e.g., cynicism, depersonalization, hostility, detachment).” We can see that “depletion” is the opposite of “vigor”, and that “depersonalization, hostility, detachment” are the opposite of dedication.
For a more nuanced understanding of engagement vs. burnout and engagement vs. satisfaction, it is instructive to refer back to the foundational Circumplex Model of human emotion by James Russell which maps human emotions on the dimensions of “valence” (pleasure/pleasantness) and “arousal” (activation/energy).
Reviewing the top right quadrant which represent states of high valence and high activation: “work engagement” occurs when employees are experiencing a state of “excitement” and “elation”. The direct opposite of “work engagement” is “burnout,” which occurs when employees feel “depressed” and “lethargic” (bottom left quadrant; states of low valence and low activation).
Interestingly, the history of engagement surveys has tended to measure more the “valence/satisfaction” dimension than the “activation/energy”. Gallup was instrumental in bringing engagement to the forefront of workplace discussions but their initial surveys were more a one dimensional measure of satisfaction. The danger of measuring only the valence dimension is that you cannot distinguish between engaged employees (top right) and employees who are satisfied but much less constructive in their workplace than they could be (bottom right). Unfortunately, many organizations are not providing the right resources to the employee relative to the demands of the job leading to stress and burnout instead of engagement.
Now that we have an intuitive and academic definition of employee engagement let’s make the link between inclusion and engagement.
*Dignii is a licensed vendor of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale survey, developed by Professor Schaufeli.
The Link Between Employee Engagement and Inclusion
One framework to apply is to think of ‘inclusion’ as valuing others, and ‘engagement’ as involving others. However, in my opinion, this is somewhat reductive. A more comprehensive definition of inclusion by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” This definition of inclusion comprises both valuing others (treat individuals fairly and with respect) and involving others (employees have equal access to opportunities and can contribute fully). To me, the broader definition of inclusion includes a precondition of engagement, which is ensuring employees can contribute fully, since contributing fully necessarily involves “vigor”, “dedication”, and “absorption”.
Engagement is a state of emotional well being that is a result of inclusion in action at the workplace. Employees need to feel trusted, and to trust in their organization, before they feel connected as a whole. Employees feel trusted when they are given a high degree of autonomy, which is one of the three intrinsic motivators of engaged employees alongside mastery, and purpose, according to Daniel Pink.
When framed this way, the overlapping drivers of engagement and inclusion are clear to see, and it is not surprising to find studies that confirm a high correlation between the two states. A study by The Winters Group found .78 correlation between inclusion and engagement. An earlier study by Gallup in 2005, found that 60% percent of respondents with the highest scores on diversity and inclusion questions were engaged whereas only 11% of those with the lowest scores in diversity and inclusion items were engaged.
Therefore, feeling trusted and valued (employee inclusion) is a necessary precondition for employee engagement. An engaged employee is
“a person who shows up to work each day as their best self by passionately adding value, and proactively seeking to achieve their company’s mission. Engaged employees demonstrate this through their interactions with coworkers, their attitude, and of course, their work.”
Finally, I share some additional resource on work engagement and inclusion:
Dignii is delighted to announce that Bob St-Jacques joins our growing team as Advisor, Sales & Customer Success. Bob is a veteran HR leader with over 24 years of global experience in people and culture optimisation, change management, and organizational transformations. Possessing both an MBA and Juris Doctor, Bob cut his teeth as a labour and employment attorney before translating his passion for making organizations work better for all stakeholders into various HR roles. Since 2000, Bob and the teams he leads have won numerous global, regional, and national awards, and his current company, 7Geese, has recently been nominated for the second year in a row as Best Service Provider for the upcoming 2019 Canadian HR Awards.
“Bob is a true asset to the team and represents the aspirations of our young company. Elisabeth and I welcome Bob wholeheartedly and look forward to working with him on building Dignii into a leading provider of diversity lens employee engagement solutions. He will help us build a world class team and put into place the sales and customer success processes required for us to grow rapidly in 2020 and beyond.” – Adrian Jonklaas, CEO, Dignii
Half way through 2019 and the conversation about “diversity” and “inclusion” continues to build momentum. These terms have been drawing attention for over a hundred years. Different groups throughout history have worked to define these terms and give them a life of their own in the hopes of fostering change. Important work has been done to encourage people shift perspectives and recognize marginalized groups: the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, marriage equality, and Truth and Reconciliation. Thanks primarily to changes in law, the work needed to create diverse environments has become a priority for companies and organizations.
It has been established in research that diverse workplaces that are often, by their nature inclusive – when employees feel valued and respected, they demonstrate higher levels of employee engagement and have better outcomes for the organization (Swiegers & Toohey, 2012).
But we’ve been talking about it for so long – why haven’t we achieved ‘diversity and inclusion’? Why is it still necessary to advocate for equal pay and equal representation on boards? Why are people afraid to ‘come out’? And why do we still see bias and discrimination in the workplace?
We need to remember that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are not synonymous. The term ‘diversity’ refers to the fact that people are inherently different from one another, and that each of us is unique in our own way despite some shared experiences. Whereas the term ‘inclusion’ means that within a group of people everyone feels valued and respected, and that the “mix” of differences is working well together.
There is a piece of the ‘diversity and inclusion’ conversation that is missing. Recognizing that we are all individually different, and having different groups of people feel acknowledged and working well together is great, but currently the conversation around inclusion exists as a repetitive cycle of introductions where we are constantly recognizing “new” underrepresented groups or minorities.
We currently approach inclusion as a concept that applies only to minority groups, but that still leaves some people missing. If the premise is that everyone is diverse by the mere nature of their origins, experiences, and expressions, then the solution must include everyone.
The concept that is missing here is dignity. If we focus on human dignity: the right of every person to be valued and respected, being truly inclusive follows. The origin of human rights is the recognition of a person’s dignity, and every human rights “movement” is a move toward having this dignity reflected in our laws and shared notions of equity, diversity and inclusion. “Dignity” is what people are trying to achieve when they talk about fostering inclusion, and if we shift our thinking toward acknowledging the dignity of every human being, we bring ourselves closer to creating an inclusive world.
Using the lens of ‘diversity and inclusion’ is not enough. If we begin with recognizing the right of each person to be valued and respected, we are essentially elevating dignity in the workplace. Elevating dignity creates inclusive workplaces and increases employee engagement in the way we’ve been aiming for over the past century.
Swiegers, G., & Toohey, K. (2012), “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance.” Research Report. Deloitte Australia and the Victoria Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.
This blog post is a response to a post by Chin Hing Chang titled “My Beef with Diversity & Inclusion.” Chin is an amazing tech start-up community enabler both in his role at Spring as well as outside. Chin has recently started a project called Value Hiring, which is a job board for mission and value aligned opportunities. Chin notes that his post was written in stream of consciousness style; my response to his post is stream of consciousness style as well. For context, I suggest that you please read Chin’s post first before reading my response.
First, a big thank you to Chin for sharing and starting a conversation around Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”). Conversations around D&I are important even if some topics are awkward, sensitive, or challenging to talk about. A terrible outcome is people being too scared to voice views out of fear of not being PC or fear of being called out for being ignorant or ill-informed. Given that oppression in all its shapes and forms has not ended means we are all learning about D&I – I certainly am! – and will be for a very, very long time. Learning together means creating a safe space to voice views, fully or partially formed, well structured and reasoned or stream of consciousness style. Conversation is the most human activity; even if we may not agree, considering other points of view shape and refine our own. Most of all, awareness of other points of view and why they are held builds compassion and empathy.
D&I is complex especially when considered through an intersectional lens. Chin, by writing his post, and me by writing a response, run the risk of potentially oversimplifying complex ideas, glossing over or omitting various factors, and even speaking from relative ignorance or misunderstanding about others. Please do comment to fill in gaps and call us out if need be. I believe both of us have written about D&I because the topic is so important.
“I don’t see colour”
When someone says, “I don’t see colour,” should they be shut down?
I do see colour. I was conditioned to see colour. I am a Sri Lankan of mixed race. As a child, I was featured in a book on Sri Lanka as representative of the Burgher community. In my career, I was discriminated against because of my race/nationality, but I also enjoyed privilege because I was relatively fair and had a European given name (“Adrian”) and a Dutch surname (“Jonklaas”).
My wife doesn’t see colour. It’s wonderful that, by default, some people see and treat all humans the same irrespective of colour. However, each of us must always be aware that race does impact the lives of everyone who happens to not be the majority in their local context. This can result in minor inconveniences (e.g., a person from the majority race cuts in line ahead of you, as I have experienced) or lead to much more serious consequences, such as social exclusion, public demeaning, and even violence.
If I heard someone say, “I don’t see colour,” I probably would use it as a conversation starter to dig deeper into their experience and the experience of racial minorities living in their communities. Even in Vancouver, one of the most aware and progressive cities in the world, I have heard a Chinese immigrant describe feeling inferior because cars would not stop for him crossing the road while they would for a non-Asian. While we shouldn’t necessarily shut down anyone who says they don’t see colour, we should ensure that when they say it, they are not inadvertently downplaying or erasing the very real – and often terrible – experience of those from minority racial groups.
“D&I for the sake of D&I”
I agree with Chin. Diversity for the sake of diversity becomes a box-ticking exercise and misses out on the biggest opportunity – “inclusion.” The phrase – credited to Verna Meyers – “diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being invited to dance” drove the point home for me.
In the workplace, inclusion is when everybody has equal access and opportunity to participate in meetings, decisions, mentorship and training, activities, etc. (within the context of their role). This means admin tasks aren’t loaded onto someone from a minority, which takes away time and opportunity from being involved in other higher value-creating processes. This means when strategy is discussed and formulated broad perspectives and cognitive diversity are brought to bear.
The Holy Grail of inclusiveness is when each of us can bring the best version of ourselves to work and be that best version with everyone in the organization. When diversity (representation) is mandated and doesn’t treat the causes (surfacing biases and mindsets), which prevented diversity in the first place, there is a failure. Where I disagree with Chin is that inclusion can never be mandated…it has to be cultivated (according to Janet Stovall in her brilliant TED Talk) which takes considerable time and effort to do so. But so worth it – see links at the bottom!
“We’ve explored a fundraising training program specific to supporting female entrepreneurs/immigrant entrepreneurs.” Regarding affirmative action, I understand Chin’s mixed feelings. As a high school student in India, I too had mixed feelings regarding affirmative action where a certain percentage of seats in universities were reserved for members of minority groups (called scheduled castes and scheduled tribes). Many of the admitted students from the minority group had lower scores than students who may otherwise have been admitted. Believing in meritocracy, I felt that it was unfair that some minority students were keeping out other qualified students who had devoted years of hard work to their studies. However, over time I have understood and accepted that affirmative action is often necessary to address the disadvantage of systemic and generational oppression. The majority of students from scheduled tribes and castes (who are from rural areas) cannot compete for the university seats because the quality of education they receive – if they have access to it at all – is far inferior to students from cities. This is for a variety of reasons including general neglect of rural areas by the central government except for during election years as well as corruption to the extent that budgets for schools and teachers are diverted to politicians and business people. I am aware of schools that only exist on paper and accounting books! Furthermore, the parents of these students are more likely than not illiterate. Everything about the system is unfair to these students, and therefore affirmative action is corrective and required to give scheduled caste and tribe students a chance to break out of these generational disadvantages.
The fact is women founders face many barriers that men do not in terms of access to funding. Right now it is appropriate and right that we promote programs that redress this. Perhaps 20 years from now when my daughter starts her first company she will face no barriers to funding. In that future world, there would be no requirement for female founder only funding programs.
We all want to live in a meritocratic world where D&I is not at the expense of quality. In the case of the female founders, this is not the case; there is data that female-led startups do better than male led start-ups. Chin makes a great point which is important to note: work needs to be done with the funding providers. That is where the problem is. Changing internal mindsets is superior to explicit targets or actions. My view is that both are required because changing mindsets takes time.
We absolutely do not want monolithic culture. We want rich, diverse culture…cognitive diversity is when the best decisions are made and creativity and innovation happen. A thought provoking quote I heard in a video of a conference keynote recently: diversity means a diverse group of people with their varied individual baggage (biases). It’s interesting to think that counteracting bias may be to have more diverse biases!
Once again, I appreciate Chin for sharing. I have expressed to him personally that I have very high regard for his commitment to transparency and that sometimes means thinking/working out aloud.
I would like to end with some links and resources to anyone reading this who is wondering what the big deal about D&I is in the first place:
Finally, here is a great talk on humanizing diversity…I think this is getting to the heart of Chin’s post…D&I is not about meeting quotas…it is about (messy) humans!