We all have it – a nasty condition called ‘unconscious bias’. This “ailment” permeates our thinking. It guides the decisions that we make. It motivates favour for one above the other. It unconsciously works in our psyche, forming, even solidifying, a tendency towards certain opinions and reinforcing limiting beliefs. It breeds selfishness, whilst, at the same time, misses opportunity for new ideas, different ways of thinking and better solutions. It holds us back from potentially achieving more and minimises the value that others may bring. Unconscious bias is subtle, but remains demeaning and limiting.

Conscious inclusion, on the other hand, positively influences our individual experiences and behaviours as well as our systems at work. Inclusion treasures diversity (not only the more visible forms like culture, race, gender and physical appearance, but also facets of diversity such as education, upbringing, job level, union affiliation, exposure, etc.). Without inclusion, diversity’s greatest benefits to organisations (innovation and improved business performance) will not be realised. For business, one of the greatest challenges is to remove bias from decisions – a very difficult exercise, especially when bias is coupled with power.

All human beings have biases. Although some may be important to have, others create exclusion. It is possible to become aware of our biases and to work to minimise them. For those that are unconscious, it is important to raise them to the level of consciousness and to put structures into place to mitigate or remove their impact – sometimes seen as unfair discrimination. Taking organisations on the diversity and inclusion journey is extremely challenging, as the journey needs to focus on and touch the cognitive (the head), affective (the heart) and behavioural (the hand) aspects of humanness:

  • Head – knowledge, data, facts
  • Heart – awareness, empathy, emotional understanding
  • Hand – interpersonal interaction and communication skills

21st Century leadership understands the need to use the diverse skills, abilities and giftedness of all employees – these leaders know how to tap into diversity to bring out the best in people and use their different perspectives to arrive at better solutions to achieve greater business results. Even more importantly, however, this same leadership has deep respect for the dignity of the human being and seeks to ensure that everyone is valued, respected and appreciated.

Free To Grow offers assistance to companies to tap into diversity and to address biases, with workshops like: WorkQ Diversity, Beyond Unconscious Bias @ Work and Conscious Inclusion for Leaders (www.freetogrow.com).

Photo credit: Landscape Tours (www.landscapetours.co.za)

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