Diversity biases and steps to facilitate understanding leading towards an inclusive workplace

Regularly when I am called by a call center of a  company doing research or trying to sell me a service, I am mostly addressed as Mrs.  or Ms.  It is an unconscious bias of many telephone operators, who assume that my voice is female, while I am a male. 
In our daily routines, we are confronted with many different diversity biases, when we communicate and interact with people. In our journey, understanding biases, there are 4 main biases, that hinder us in building a diverse and inclusive workplace and that easily can create misunderstanding, conflict or not obtaining and motivating the most talented people.
1. Unconscious bias
Unconscious bias is implicit. It is unintended and subtle, based on unconscious thought. Typically unconscious bias happens involuntarily without any awareness or intentional control.
2. Affinity bias
Affinity bias is the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us. It is easy to socialize and spend time with others who are not different. It requires more effort to bridge differences when diversity is present. Helen Turnbull,  CEO of Human Facets and having a 25+ year successful track record in the field of Global Inclusion, shares her experience on how she got scared and schocked in an airplane when she discovered that the pilot was a female. She was confronted with her mental models on how she expects pilots to be. ‘According to the world she was growing up, her understanding of reliable pilots were these who were men, tall and self-secured’. In her understanding, it came never to her mind that a pilot of an airplane could be a woman. This perspective made her scared and gave her a feeling of discomfort during the flight. How come, that we grow up with examples, that build our understanding of the world, but which can be totally wrong and inadequate?  Watch Hellen Trumble’s Ted Talk about how affinity biases, can hinder our perspectives and understanding of the world.

At the end Hellen recommends, that we regularly need to challenge ourselves and take initiatives to widen the size of our inner groups. .  In the online course ‘Understanding Diversity and Inclusion’ conducted by Future Learn,  I learned that my fellow participants purposely start  voluntary work or community service with the purpose to get a broader perspective on the world. Somehow, in our work and private life, we tend to socialize with people who are from a similar background and who have similar values. Therefore, we still are regularly confronted with affinity biases. 

3. Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias happens when we demonstrate a tendency to seek information that confirms what we already believe. In this case we are not open to what others belief. This is a bias towards collecting support for the beliefs, values, and assumptions we hold. Confirmation bias occurs often and especially in the world of politics. We may only watch or listen to media that confirms our opinions and views. This TEDX Talk discusses on how two friends were able to avoid confirmation biases during the 2016 elections in the USA, where Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were running for the presidency.   To stress the importance of this story, is that in 2016, 46 % of relationships were negatively effected by the presidential elections.  Watch:
In this video Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge explain that they were able to prevent the confirmation bias by switching from debating to a desire of interest, curiousity and a desire to learn.
Instead of judgement, they started dialogues to understand each other’s beliefs and values. Truly hearing each others perspectives.  In this case, they applied basic facilitation skills focusing on having meaningful conversations, that helped them to move forward.  Building connections through dialogue.
4. Perception bias
Perception bias is the tendency to form simplistic stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups of people. This means it can be very difficult to make an objective judgement about members of diverse groups. Kristen Pressner, diversity expert, addressed in her TedTalk that in many cultures men are seen as the persons, who are supposed to take charge, while women are the people to take care. In her case she challenges people to turn perceptions around. She suggests that it can make a big difference seeing the world where a man is a supportive person who is a caretaker and where a woman can be a provider who takes charge. So, to increase our awareness of biases, Kristen suggests we flip bias when we face it.  TedTalk Kristen Pressner

How to facilitate diversity biases and start building an inclusive workplace In the process of building an inclusive workplace, where differences between people are valued and apprectiated, four steps are distinghuised;
1.  Develop self-awareness:   Self-awareness means discovering your biases and start to understand them.   In this case the facilitator, challenges group members with reflective questions to clearify their own biases.
2. Awareness of others:  Awareness of others means listening to stories and understanding the background, histories and perceptions of other people. Here the facilitator helps the group to conduct story telling sessions enabling people to hear each other’s biases and misunderstandings.
3. Managing emotions:      Biases will create misunderstandings and conflicts, triggering deeper emotions. In this phase it is the role of the facilitator to facilitate dialogue in a safe environment, where a people are willing to hear and accept differences enabling them to come to understanding.  If emotions arise, it is the task of the facilitator to ask and hear the reasons behind these emotions and create an environment where people can hear and listen to each other.
4. Bridging differences:  Deeper questions and dialogue will enable a group to find common values and beliefs. It is the role of the facilitator to enable the group to accept each other’s differences and to build common goals and values, that will help to bridge these differences.
Finally, if diversity can make a difference in making organisations more successful and effective, facilitation will be key to understand diversity biases and finally build an inclusive workplace where differences will be resolved and motivation for shared values, beliefs and goals will be maintained and developed.


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