Now’s the time to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Our brains are trained to make snap decisions, like those immediate split second judgments you might make about someone’s appearance when they first walk into a room. We all make decisions that are not based on either facts or judgment, it’s just how our brains work. But the key here is what happens next…do you act on your initial judgement or do you realise you weren’t dealing with facts and change your behaviour accordingly?
The issue is a key one when we’re talking about different types of bias. When we make a judgement about someone and don’t change our approach no matter the evidence to the contrary, we’re heading down a dangerous road towards unconscious bias. And when we first become aware of unconscious bias, trying to do anything about it is going to feel uncomfortable.
Why uncomfortable matters
When we learn a new skill, such as riding a bike or learning to ski for the first time, we’re very happy to be uncomfortable. But in the professional arena, and especially for those who have achieved a degree of seniority and are used to being the ‘go-to’ person; recognising that there are things we don’t know is an uncomfortable place to be. But in order to work towards eradicating biases, it’s so important to get to a point of conscious incompetence - being aware of a skill or knowledge gap and understanding the importance of acquiring the new skill. It’s at this stage that learning and changing behaviour can begin.
The result is getting to know people better than you did before because you open yourself up to hearing what they really have to say. The more this continues, the more it becomes a habit, and the less uncomfortable it feels.
Towards the holy grail of inclusion
When I talk to clients about the importance of diversity and inclusion, it’s usually diversity that’s the easier one for leaders to act upon. It’s more measurable, more obvious and more specific.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is much less tangible. But don’t be fooled - it’s also the secret sauce to an organisation; it’s the culture, the way teams behave and the way individuals are treated every day. Being an inclusive organisation should be an organisation’s modus operandi and its positive benefits should radiate down through every facet of the company - “it’s the way things are done around here”.
Be BRAVE to counteract bias
One simple technique that I've developed is the "BRAVE" model to drive inclusion and better balanced representation. Each letter of BRAVE stands for two actionable steps you can start on today.
Build relationships outside your in-group: There's a lot of research to show that the concept of walking in someone's shoes and hearing a personal story of how someone is different to ourselves can really help us be empathetic to differences in other people’s experiences.
Be consciously inclusive: Knowing the benefits of inclusion, this is about taking everything that you do and all of the interactions that you have and ensuring that you build inclusion into every touchpoint. It’s about looking at what's missing: Do we have differences? And are we hearing different perspectives and different voices?
Recognise bias in yourself and others: Look for people who will challenge you, and do the same for them.
Request feedback from a broad group: Do you only ever ask people for feedback who you already know agree with your point of view? If so, you're not getting the full picture. Consider 360 feedback requests from peers and direct reports to get a more accurate view.
Advance all talent: Don’t just choose to mentor and sponsor people who are exactly like you, or remind you of yourself. It is much more valuable to mentor and sponsor people who might have a different experience to your own.
Accountability to drive progress: How are you going to hold yourself accountable for this change or in the work context? How does the work environment hold people accountable for change? Without accountability, cultural or behavioural change is impossible.
Be Vocal in the moment where you see inequity: if you don't challenge where you see inequity, you're telling everybody else in the group that you're okay with what's been said. We all have a responsibility to speak up and be vocal.
Add another Viewpoint to your decision making: are you only making decisions based on input from a very small group of people? Or have you ensured that you're getting input from lots of different types of people with different types of perspectives?
Empower everyone to contribute and act: help people to understand that inclusive culture is about how we all treat each other, from the CEO down, to the intern up.
Drive Effort by everyone, every day: Feeling and doing something that feels initially uncomfortable, or doing something that feels initially counterintuitive, can feel like it’s going against your gut. But we need to do it - we need to make ourselves feel uncomfortable to get to the point of being unconsciously competent again.
“People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel” - Maya Angelou
To behave in an inclusive way, it’s imperative to understand that our natural inclination is not to be fair. Our gut instinct doesn't always serve us. But if we behave inclusively, we can make people who otherwise don't feel included, feel like they belong. When you commit to improving your company by incorporating inclusivity in your core values - creating a culture of freedom and acceptance - everyone wins.
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