In the US, diversity and inclusion are once again being taken seriously at the highest levels. Over the last four years, conscious acts and unconscious biases all too often fuelled existing tensions, in America and beyond. Donald Trump’s presidency signalled to polarised populations everywhere that inequality was acceptable. Not any more.

A spring breeze is blowing. Its touch was first felt during the Black Lives Matter protests last year. It was reinvigorated by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris moving into the White House in January, and by America’s Black History Month in February. Now, as vaccines begin to have an impact and businesses are able to reinvest, governments can reopen economies and we can embrace the heartfelt change now knocking at the door.

Change comes at all levels. In the White House, Biden is already making good on his commitment to diversity and inclusion. In his first week in office, he signed four executive orders aimed at curbing discrimination against racial minorities. He’s reinstated diversity and inclusion training for federal employees and contractors – training Trump had banned.

What can the rest of us do? Personally, I’m listening to Gene. With a smile that can fill a room, and a heart to match, Gene Douglas, a consultant trainer in our New York office, marked America’s Black History Month with a moving tribute to his father, Eugene B. Douglas (1935 – 2018). Born in Rockwall, Texas, Eugene B. Douglas grew up at a time when he was restricted by the Jim Crow laws of a nation he loved nonetheless. Turning down a college scholarship in favour of joining the army, he served his country for 22 years.

I mentioned to Gene that there have been questions on who’s allowed to express an opinion and who’s not. It’s been said online that ‘if you’re white, pass the mic’, which would rule me out. There’s also been discussion on a capital B in Black and a lower case w in white. Capital B recognises systemic inequality and the need for long-lasting change, it’s a matter of identity, as supported by trusted media style guides such as the Associated Press.

Understanding Conscious Bias

Amid these discussions, there is renewed focus on managing unconscious biases.

Our Learnflix Diversity and Inclusion course breaks unconscious bias into 3 themes:

1. What is Unconscious Bias?

  • Unconscious bias is an automatic response leading to quick judgements and assessments of people and scenarios. It includes:
  • The Affinity Bias – where we seek to associate with those we are comfortable with.
  • The Halo Effect – where beliefs about what is ‘good’ are accepted without just cause.
  • Confirmation Bias – interpreting something in a way that confirms our prior beliefs.
  • Conformity – the urge to reject choices that diverge from our group’s usual beliefs.

2. How it Changes You

  • Privilege. Before you can be a fully inclusive leader, you must be absolutely frank with yourself about the advantages or disadvantages you’ve faced in your own life.
  • Micro-aggressions. These are brief, everyday exchanges that subtly demean an individual, group, society or culture.
  • The influence of in-group. We’re more likely to have positive views towards a member of a group we think we belong to, than towards a perceived ‘outsider’.
  • The influence of out-group. An unconscious view of everybody outside your in-group, leading you to perceive outsiders in a negative light.

3. What Can We Do?

  • Reflect on your inner voice. It’s important that we’re open and inclusive as a leader of others, and vital that we’re tolerant of our own failings.
  • Look around you. Diversity is an immensely important and challenging issue within business. Solutions start with your actions.
  • Raise awareness. The more conscious our decision-making, the more possibilities we’ll have to be genuinely inclusive as leaders and as people.

In discussing such issues with Gene, he suggested I ‘write the truth and write how you feel’. Normally, those are easy things to do. But unconscious bias, grammatical shifts and changing times can be tricky waters to navigate. In the end I just listened to Gene.

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