I’m ashamed to admit that I avoid talking about diversity because I worry that I will open my big mouth and commit some gross gaffe, causing extreme discomfort for everyone and and intense shame for myself.
I worry I will reveal an “implicit bias” that unveils what an unconscious bigot I am and I will be rejected. By everyone.
But, we are all biased.
Our brains would self-combust if we didn’t use filters to sift through the onslaught of data and sensory experiences we encounter daily. Scientists estimate that we have conscious access to only 5% of our brains. So there’s a whole lot going on up there that we are completely unaware of.
Bias doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human. According to Psychology Today, “Implicit bias is an everyone problem because it’s a brain problem.”
From an evolutionary standpoint, different meant “danger.” Encountering a new plant or a new animal was cause for with caution. It helps explain why we fear change—because it’s unknown, and anything unknown is dangerous. This sensitivity to difference is what helped us survive as early humans.
Acting on these biases isn’t fair. Biases are not rational. It’s simply how our brains work. This fear of “different” does not serve us as a species.
How do we confront what we don’t know is there?
Research shows that mandatory diversity trainings don’t work, and can even make things worse.
I believe that part of the problem is that we have no safe space in which to examine our biases, and if we are afraid to look at our blind spots, we can’t overcome them. (If you don’t admit you have a problem, you can’t solve it, right?) By exposing my thinking to the light of day, I can see where my it is flawed.
The most effective way of breaking down bias and prejudice in the workforce is simply by bringing people of different backgrounds together to accomplish a common goal. That’s it.
We break down prejudice and bias the individual level. All institutions and systems started, at some point, with an individual.
Which means, to me, that if we want our schools, institutions, the workplace, communities to change, then the place to begin is with ourselves. While it is easy to point the finger at political figures, at the people in power, etc., the place where I have the most influence is with myself.
Change begins on the inside. And it doesn’t begin with judgment, fear, or shame.
Artwork © Kija Lucas