Your Company Can’t Be Diverse or Inclusive Without You

Each employee serves an important role, big or small, in their company’s success. The people are the lifeblood of organizations. They drive the ideas, write the rules, and make it all happen.

We know by now that companies that can gather diverse groups of these mission critical people–read: their employees–are better off. And companies that foster inclusive environments in the workplace? They’re even better. But, when it comes to diversity and inclusion as an actual directive, initiative, or success measure, it’s interesting to see that many people take a step back. They’re not sure what they can do.

“What is the HR team doing?” we ask.

“How about a policy change?” we wonder.

We look to leaders to set the example or to someone else to speak up when something goes wrong.

And ultimately, we downplay our own impact in the whole equation.

So, I make a difference?

Yup. While it’s important to be involved in your company’s diversity and inclusion programs, it’s not the first place to start. I’d actually suggest starting smaller. Let’s get introspective for a moment and take a look at our own decision-making processes. Think about all of these things you’ve had to make a decision on today. Tally them up.

Just kidding, stop. We make too many decisions to count.

Every single decision we make is influenced–by people, by things, by situations, and ultimately, by our own bias. Countless studies have proven that to be human is to have bias. While bias can help us to make decisions, in some ways it can also hurt.

Naturally, humans ignore that they are biased most of the time. Cool. Kind of like how we forget that we have to breathe to survive until we’re underwater. It’s one of those things that is there, silently and continually happening as we go about our daily lives.

If every decision is impacted by bias, it’s possible that even with our action committees, equal opportunity regulations, and diversity and inclusion programs, companies are still going to come up short on making an impact or a difference.

That’s bleak. What can we do?

It’s time humans as a collective group own that we are unconsciously biased. Every one of us has bias, every one of us uses bias, and every single one of us has a different makeup of biases. And, it’s time we talk about it.

Our lives are written with unconscious bias in the makeup. Fast Company will tell you that bias impacts almost every piece of human identity, including race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, religion, accent, height, hand dominance, etc. Is anything safe? (No.)

We can’t judge each other by asking or guessing who has bias about what. We all do. Our time is better spent considering our own biases and how they’re manifesting in our day-to-day lives.

How do I figure out bias?

First, get to know bias and how it can play out in your day-to-day. Imagine scenarios that might happen and realize how bias may be influencing these situations. Business Insider chronicled 20 of the most common biases that affect decision-making, which will help you get started.

Then, we have to understand our own biases. I was pretty shocked to discover some of my own. I took an implicit association test I found on the Social Psychology Network website and found out that I more strongly associate males with careers and females with family. That’s not precisely how I consciously feel or think, but unconscious bias doesn’t necessarily reflect what we consciously believe.

Finally, realize that it’s nearly impossible to overcome all biases when making decisions–we’d all sit around weighing on decisions for days (let’s not add more of that to the business world).

But if we’re more informed, we’re better decision-makers.

Bingo. The real challenge is considering when and where to act on or question our biases. They can cause us to make decisions the same way we always have because we feel safer, more comfortable, or are even unaware of the lenses we’ve placed.

We need to have self-awareness, and when it makes sense, the wherewithal to take a step back and consider all the angles our decisions may reflect.

Also, the next time someone says “in my unbiased opinion,” think twice.