Is your brain lying to you?
A number of people have asked me why diversity matters in our media or on panel discussions or in top leadership.
I mean, does it really matter what we see when we crash on the couch after a long day? And at a conference or in top leadership, isn’t selecting the very best the most important thing?
The problem is how our brains work. You see, our brain has to handle a lot of information coming in, so in order to manage it, our brain takes the liberty of looking for patterns and filtering for us what it sees as the most important bits. Like autopilot, our brains take shortcuts.
Without those shortcuts, we’d have to sit and really think through way too much information. Imagine, if every single time you’d have to contemplate how to shake hands, or open a door or sing happy birthday?
But of course, brain shortcuts can also have a downside. Because they ‘see’ patterns based on the cumulative effect of everything we’ve been exposed to throughout our lives. And every TV show, panel discussion or exposure to leadership…contributes.
And the whole thing takes place in the background of our brains, which means, we’re not even aware it’s happening. This can cause us to think and behave in ways that are not true to what we value, believe or how we want to be, and we won’t even know it.
It can cause us to believe that people with certain characteristics are different, and thus, not as good.
Don’t believe me? Watch this 8 minute TEDx where, despite being a woman leader, paid-to-be unbiased HR executive, passionate advocate for women to step into leadership…
I caught myself unknowingly being biased toward a woman leader.
Sounds like unconscious bias is impossible to stop… so what are my top tips to do so?
To ensure a common basis and understanding from which to then have a discussion, share observations, explore openly why it matters, and explain the business and real-life value.
Take everyday actions
Work to ensure the full diversity of the world is represented when you can personally influence it and challenge lack of diversity when you can’t: in media and when decisions happen. For example, ensure a diverse candidate slate for a job opening, project team or panel discussion, even if it is a little more work.
Use inclusive language. It may sound minor, but if the gender isn’t known, say he or she, not ‘he’. @Manwhohasitall has a great satirical take on this:
Surround yourself with images that counteract stereotypes to rewire your brain. For example: female surgeons and male assistants.
Run meetings that are fair to all (read this Harvard Business Review article for more info.)
Give everyone a role
Involve as many people as possible, at all levels of the organization, because from there you can have a diversity of perspective involved and you can start a groundswell.
Return yourself to consciousness
Get in the daily habit of looking for opportunities to #FlipItToTestIt!