Thursday, July 11, 2013

Race in the Workplace

Race in the Workplace

So, with all the things going on in the media (George Zimmerman trial & Paula Deen) I thought I would visit the topic the makes most people either: uncomfortable or disengaged at work.  Race in the Workplace. I have come to a point in my life where I have began to see things a little bit differently than I may have before.  This has allowed me to develop new opinions and perspectives that I was not capable of possessing. I have also come to a point in time in my life where I no longer want to talk about my “black-ness” every time the issue of diversity and inclusion gets brought up at work. I would rather talk about my capabilities, qualifications, and experiences that have brought me where I am today.
We tend to allow ourselves to be easily distracted by the superficial to avoid talking about that deep undercurrent issue. My being black is superficial, but dive deeper and discuss how my being black has impacted my perspective on the world.  Now, do not get me wrong, I cannot say with a whole heart that racism no longer exists. Whether it is in the most obvious and blatant form or it has been disguised in the subtle and subdued actions, reactions, or inactions of a person it is there. But the blatant and obvious will racism that will either be unchangeable in a person or deemed as racist in the public court of opinion and dealt with there (ask Paula Deen).  However, what really needs work, what we can change, and what we should be discussing in the subtle and subdued actions, reactions, or inactions. That possibility should not be titled as racism-but a concept known as unconscious bias.
Now, we ALL have our biases. This is a classical nature versus nurture argument. Some of our biases are natural to us (the bias or preference to not walk on fire) and some of our biases are due to our cultural surroundings (the preference in music, food, and the people we associate with). This is the cognitive wiring of your brain; however, when we become conscious of our unconscious preferences for certain things we are enlightened enough to control our actions, reactions, and inactions to them.  Now your next questions to me may be, “how does this translate into the workplace?”
When dealing with people who have varying opinions, experiences in life, and personalities that are developed this way because of nature, nurture or their cultural upbringing the potential for conflict or lack of understanding is high (but so too is the ability to develop brilliant solutions to problems). The bias does not have to deal directly with race (although it very well could directly be linked to race); it could be a preference to recruit at a certain university because you graduated from there. It could be that you prefer to have taller men on your team because your husband/ father/ brothers are all tall men. It could be that you prefer women/men to dress a certain way at work and you unconsciously judge your counterpart’s ability to successfully complete a task for not attaining that certain style.

These biases are “nurture” or formed by the things around us and in our environment. The things we hear in our music, the advertisements on television, the conversations over heard, ect. This is the critical element in helping us to understand that we all have biases and that once we take our unconscious biases and turn them into conscious biases we can make better business decisions without allowing our preferences to interfere with our actions, reactions, or inactions.  However, this takes a large amount of self reflection. Determining, for example, that you are not going to hire one person over another not because they did not attend the same university as you did (like the other applicant may have) but because they are not the most qualified person. You need to be prepared to ask yourself those deep and sometimes uncomfortable questions.

We need diversity in the workplace. We need people with different backgrounds, different personalities, and different opinions to see development and growth. And BOTH development and growth are essential in the global market we have today. But when you approach me about diversity and inclusion, do not lead with race/ racism/ rights (you’ll lose your audience); you have now created an us versus them dichotomy.  Instead lead with innovation, development, and technology and have different experiences and thinking lead to those. Or better yet, lead with an understanding that we are all different and we all have biases towards one thing or another, but understanding that those biases exists and knowing what they are (because they are different in every person) will help us to avoid making business decisions based on our own personal preference/biases.
Be a part of a team. Lead with integrity. Remain committed to your core values.


The Young & Professional Gal
*Please note this is not my website, I cannot take credit for its content. This is a Harvard study that utilizes the data inputted into the system. However, it is a great tool.

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