Maya Angelou once said “We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.” Much of our workplace behavior is full of bias–most of which we demonstrate without realizing that it is happening. We have learned that we all have biases–the fact that we’re human and have brains means that we’re biased (see June 2015 Network News D&I article). But how can we reframe those biases, unconscious or not, in our work environments to help achieve greater business outcomes, strengthen team relationships, create learning organizations and foster tolerance?
The potential that an organization’s systems are inherently biased is a fact because organizations are made up of humans that are flawed and have biases. Diversity & Inclusion conversations are difficult, even more so in the workplace as there are legal and social structures in place that prevent the dialogue about these topics.
Bias shows up in every piece of the employee lifecycle – from having qualifications on a job description, that are essentially biases written down, to performance reviews and succession planning. The “cultural fit” sought in new candidates that look like us does not leverage the innovative ideas and perspectives that others who are different can bring to the table. And as we promote those that look just like us, we’re perpetuating the sameness.
As OD practitioners, we need to have a relentless pursuit of fairness and institutionalize the value of equity in the organizations where we practice. We need to be leaders in those discussions and build trust amongst and between others. It’s the judgment of others that prevents discussion and hinders people’s abilities to appreciate differences.
At the organizational level, systems can be changed and we should be the leaders of those changes. By acknowledging our own biases, being thoughtful when presented with a situation that stirs those biases, raising awareness with others, and working to put structured processes and systems in place that encourage equity and accountability, and distribute power and privilege in fairer ways, we help to honor the whole human being in service of higher levels of consciousness.
Beth Allen is the Manager of the Project Management Office at Nemours|A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. She has worked in project management within the Delaware Valley healthcare arena for approximately 20 years. Beth has a B.S. in Liberal Studies from Neumann University and is a proud member of Cohort 72 in American University’s M.S. Organization Development program.
Norm Jones serves as Associate Chief Diversity Officer and Deputy Director in Harvard University’s Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity. Prior to coming to Harvard, Norm served as Associate Vice President and Dean of Institutional Diversity at Dickinson College. As an OD practitioner he has worked both nationally and internationally on large-scale change initiatives, organizational design, and executive team development projects. He holds a BS in English and Linguistics from Morehouse College, and a Master of Public Administration and Ph.D. in Workforce Education and Development from Pennsylvania State University.