By Maggie White / director of the NGA Foundation
Unconscious bias can impact everything from hiring and promotions, to who receives special assignments, employee evaluations, customer service and sales practices.
That was the focus of “Leading Consciously,” a seminar hosted Dec. 3 by the NGA Foundation, in partnership with the Washington Food Industry Association.
The session drew dozens of industry leaders, executive teams, managers and associates looking to better understand the source of unconscious or implicit bias. The discussion sought to provide context for more effective discourse on race, gender and other forms of bias for institutions that want to change or guide their cultures.
Such lessons help teams to establish a “safe container” for conversations regarding bias, advantage blindness and privilege, and create an essential foundation for diversity and inclusion efforts.
The seminar was led by Cassandra Walker Pye, founder of 3.14 Communications , who has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career in communications, government and politics, and as an advocate for corporate interests in global, national, state and local arenas. Pye’s seminars make a science-based case for how biases develop naturally and how those biases affect our decisions and actions, in the workplace and beyond.
Participants found the session valuable, with feedback exemplified by this post-event comment from an NGA associate member: “The course was terrific. I took an unconscious bias course a couple of years ago with my organization and felt this course really demonstrated the bias versus simply telling me I have bias. I found this far more impactful.”
Here are some key takeaways from the seminar:
Diversity and inclusion are good for business. Companies are stronger when their leadership and employees better reflect the communities they serve.
“Diversity drives better decision making. It drives innovation and creativity,” Pye said. “At the end of the day, it will lead to more profitability.”
Unconscious bias is unavoidable. Our brains, which process millions more bits of data than we are conscious of, are driven by tasks and in milliseconds can fill the gaps we need to make decisions based on past experiences. These associations are positive or negative, depending on those experiences, which may not be based on exposure to diversity. They key is to be mindful of these biases.
“As Americans, we’re driven by excellence, getting things done quickly,” Pye said. “But excluding information reinforces your biases.”
Expose your teams to diversity. “De-bias” your work processes and environment. Increase the opportunity for intergroup contact by hiring and maintaining a diverse staff.
Foster fairness. Encourage a desire to be fair. Affirm equitable goals that counter the activation of automatic stereotypes. Recognize and challenge in-group favoritism.
Do people see themselves in the room? Customers and employees are more likely to embrace businesses with which they can identify. Staffing as well as marketing imagery should reflect a diverse world. “Create a new history for the people who work with you and your customers,” Pye advised.