Ignorance not always bliss
So how and why does exclusion still take place when there are direct benefits to inclusion? Often, without even realizing it, people engage in micro-inequities that are driven by their unconscious biases. Micro-inequities are the subtle gestures, comments, and interactions that make you feel included or excluded by another. It’s feeling ignored when you’re talking to someone and they glance at their watch when you make an important point. It’s being left off of an email chain when you should have been included. Think of micro-inequities as the waves that threaten to erode your beautiful beach house that sits on wooden stilts. Over time, the waves deteriorate the wooden stilts, often in ways that are unseen by the eye.
While there are a number of ways to uncover exclusion and unconscious bias in an organization—and eventually eradicate it—the process may start with three questions:
- Is there a team member who would view my feedback as negative if I give them any feedback at all?
- Who on the team do I dislike working with?
- Which person on the team makes me say, “I am having such a difficult time getting to know this person?”
Most likely the person or people who surface in your responses are feeling excluded from your work groups.
In a training session for a large government agency, there was a senior leader who admitted that while he was committed to diversity as a cause, he was not putting his actions into practice with certain individuals on his team. He courageously admitted that he created a self-fulfilling prophecy where his favorite employees were excelling and the others, whom he did not connect with and had ignored, were struggling. Invitations to his afternoon coffee excursions to Starbucks were only extended to the people on his team that he connected to and liked.
Even those with the best intentions have difficulty tying their words to their actions. Creating an inclusive culture takes shaking our unconscious minds awake and questioning our actions.
Natalie Holder is an employment lawyer, speaker, corporate trainer and author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention, and Promotion. As the co-founder of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Fellowship she developed strategies to increase diversity and retention for various bar associations. In 2013, NYU honored her with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award. For more information on Natalie Holder please visit www.QuestDiversity.com.