Is There Bias on Your Diversity Council?

Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

Well, is there? I know that is a terrifying prospect especially since you are all working so hard to bring inclusion to your workplaces. Having said that, I do have to ask, have you ever heard comments similar to these?

“I wouldn’t count on him for support with the Women’s Affinity Group. Men just don’t ‘get it’ and I’m sure he’s no different from the rest.”

“Linda may be a good CEO, but she grew up in a very homogenous community and is as white as it gets. People like her don’t care much about diversity”

“I hear Joe is a conservative Christian. Do you really think he’ll have anything to offer the Council? You know how Christians are about diversity.”

Have you ever heard comments similar to these uttered by members of your Council? If so, I’m afraid you just might have some biases in your midst; biases that, sadly, will have the effect of slowing down your diversity efforts.

I have awkwardly labeled the particular brand of bias reflected in these statements, the “bias bias.” This is the prejudice that contends that all members of a particular group are always – each and every time – going to hold biases against others.

The “Bias Bias”: The Personal Price We Pay
Mark is guilty of this “bias bias.” He believes that all fully-abled (or, as he is fond of saying with a nod toward Father Time, “temporarily-abled”) people are biased against him and others with disabilities. Prejudices like Mark’s are usually triggered by a desire to protect the person from a repetition of emotional pain. From Mark’s point of view, as destructive as his bias is, it does keep him from being caught off guard next time he is treated like a child or ignored as if he, and his wheelchair, were invisible.

Mark, you see, is a paraplegic who for years has been patronized by strangers. Because of these experiences, he has developed a bias against anyone who offers him assistance. The bias is so bad that at even the simplest offer of kindness, he is apt to bristle and snap, “I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” Sadly, Mark has become just as biased as that minority of people who assume that “All people with disabilities are to be patronized and pitied.”

The price Mark pays for this bias is a steep one. He misses out on opportunities for friendships and frequently complains of being lonely. In addition, he is having difficulty moving up in his organization because he makes few contacts among his colleagues and, therefore, has been unable to form any mentoring or effective networking relationships. This is a steep price, it seems to me, for the relatively limited gain of being protected from unexpected blows to his self-esteem.

The “Bias Bias”: The Diversity Price We Pay
The damage done to our personal lives when we hold the “bias bias” is obviously devastating; it can be even worse when it comes to our diversity efforts. Here are just some ways in which the bias that all members of a given group are prejudiced against others can cause:

1.The failure to approach an upper level executive for support merely because of the assumption that, because of his or her race, he or she will be unsupportive of diversity.
2.The failure to create cross-ethnic mentor partnerships out of the assumption that one partner will automatically be biased against the other.
3.The impression among team members that some biases are more acceptable than others. The fact is: bias is bias. No matter who holds it and no matter in what direction it is pointed, bias has no place in a truly inclusive workplace.
4. Dissension on work teams. No one likes a bias directed against them. Whether it is male to female, white to black, majority to minority or the other way around, again, “bias is bias” and it creates nothing but bad feeling when it is allowed to flourish.

Workplace Application
What can you do to help minimize this destruction? Here are some ideas:

1. Make it clear in presentations, memos, and action that the expression of a bias – regardless of against whom it is directed – is inappropriate in the workplace.
2. When such biases are expressed, intervene in whatever manner is effective.
3. Discuss this issue with your Council and Diversity Champions. They may be surprised when you bring it up, but I guarantee that many of your colleagues have been thinking about this important problem and will be relieved to finally have the subject out in the open.
4. Integrate the discussion of bias against “majority” populations into your diversity training.

Finally, and probably most important, be alert to the possibility that you too carry within you just a bit of “bias bias.” There is no better way to spread the true diversity message than by modeling the kind of self-awareness and honesty that can only help to move all our diversity efforts forward.

Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for webinars and in-person presentations by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to www.thiederman.com.

© copyright 2013 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

Feel free to re-print or re-post as long as copyright and web site (www.thiederman.com) information is attached.

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