Here’s Why…

At times when I write or speak about multidirectional unconscious bias in the workplace;  in particular ‘reverse bias’, some critics feel or fear:

I’m letting off conscious/unconscious perpetrators of racial closely followed by gender, disability, age  and sexual orientation bias etc.

That I as an ethnic minority am exacerbating the problem, emboldening perpetrators and relieving corporates  of their social obligation to bridge the disparities in opportunities for minorities and marginalised groups.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

You cannot resolve a problem by addressing it dishonestly, inadequately or partially. When people openly accept the multidirectional or two-way street nature of workplace bias ‘in the moment’ where it does the most damage; many good things happen:

  1. We accept that at our core we’re all the same, despite some of us historically and presently being more on the wrong side of workplace bias than others.
  2. Minorities/marginnalised ( these are traditional victims such as ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, people with minority sexual orientation etc) always allow for misinterpretations of bias towards them, initially giving the benefit of doubt whenever they sense it.
  3. By giving the benefit of the doubt traditional victims  de-escalate tensions in themselves  and in ‘presumed’ traditional perpetrators of bias (white, able-bodied, heterosexual mostly male leaders etc)towards them
  4. Allowing for misinterpretations of bias by giving the benefit of the doubt,  empowers traditional victims  to engage in collaborative, harmonious discussions that seek to unearth the sensed bias, which could be:
    Bias towards them
    Bias from them towards the traditional perpetrator
    A bit of both!
  5. Traditional victims are less likely to expect to be victims of workplace bias by default, which means they will no longer be at the mercy of ‘presumed’ traditional perpetrators’ goodwill or empathy to progress their careers.

However if we don’t openly accept and address the two-way street nature of unconscious workplace bias. We encourage the opposite to happen which looks something like this:

  1. At our core we see ourselves as different and not all the same
  2. We see all white able-bodied, heterosexual, mostly male leaders and people-managers as unconsciously hardwired to oppress minorities by default (demonisation)
  3. We highten unspoken two-way tensions in the workplace
  4. We encourage disengagement and actively discourage authentic engagement and effective communication
  5. We never give each other the benefit of the doubt
  6. We consign minorities/marginalised and their future generations to victim status for the rest of their careers and life (demeaning)

Unfortunately the latter approach is not only the most prevalent, it is championed by most so-called experts and 95% of the corporate world!  This is why I choose to write and speak about both forms of workplace bias ‘directional’ and ‘reverse’ bias to show leaders, staff and people-managers how to effectively and collaboratively navigate both.

Effective bias navigation fast tracks organic increases in representation of minorities/marginalised groups into senior and high profile roles. It also drives higher performance as a result.

The first step in effective bias navigation is accepting the multidirectional nature of workplace bias. So altogether now, say it with me: “unconscious bias in the workplace is a two-way street not a one-way street!” There, that didn’t hurt did it. Now we can figure out how to address it, which is relatively simple when we’re clear on the problem! 🙂

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