Years ago, I had a need for an operations manager for a very high-profile client. I completed initial interviews and narrowed it down to two very capable candidates to pass on to my Vice President and the Client for final interviews and candidate selection. Both candidates were white males in their early thirties. Both candidates had roughly the same level of experience, education level, and record of success in similar roles. One candidate was about 5’5 and had a shaved head while the other was 6’3 and an athletic build. Based on the limited info above, did you already think to yourself which one you probably would have chosen? Why did you choose that candidate?
Ultimately, the taller candidate was chosen. Many weeks later in a conversation unrelated to the hiring process, my VP, a white male in his forties, shared he did not like people with shaved heads in a professional environment. The Client VP, a white female in her sixties, shared in a conversation over dinner where we were talking about a popular television actor that she liked the actor because he was tall, and she felt like taller people were just more capable.
I share that story because often when we think of bias, we think in the limited construct of race and gender, I know I did early on in my quest for more education on the subject. When it comes to unconscious bias however, research shows that these potential biases not only include race and gender, but extend into nationality, age, sexual orientation, familial construct, socioeconomic status, language ability, weight, perceived attractiveness, political affiliation, hair color and texture, or even posture.
While our biases do not always have a negative impact (think the tendency to assume positive intent), many often do and can limit professional opportunities for ourselves and others. They can also limit the growth and performance of the organization by unintentionally creating a narrative that otherwise talented individuals would not be welcome for one reason or another.
The Franklin Covey Institute, a leader in coaching, training, and leadership consulting utilizes a performance model that highlights three zones: Damaging, Limiting, and High Performance. In the High-Performance Zone, people feel respected, included, and valued.
So, what can you personally do to create an inclusive high performing culture?
1. Recognize that having bias is a part of being human. We all come from different cultural, environmental, and socioeconomic experiences that create the frames of the glasses of which we view the world through. Self-awareness is a powerful trait of successful leaders that allows you to take a step back to audit what could be driving the decisions you make.
2. Cultivate belonging. We tend to put the responsibility to “fit in” with the organization with the employee, rather strive to create a culture where people can bring their unique talents to the table and contribute. Build connections through empathy and curiosity.
3. Encourage “failure”. Many have heard Edison’s famous quote “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.” Encourage thoughtful solutions, and even if it doesn’t work encourage people to continue to bring forth their contributions.
4. Communicate wins. Regularly recognize your team for their contributions to the business to help highlight how diverse perspectives contribute to the bottom line.
Organizations achieve their highest performance when they allow their employees to be their most authentic whole self at work, and everyone at every level is accountable to “be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Ebony Langston is the Executive Director of Global Operations and Licensing. She is also a founding member of TTEC's Black Leadership Council. Learn more from Ebony about how diversity drives innovation in this video and which TTEC value is her favorite to foster collaboration.
Looking for more insight on how you can be a part of creating an inclusive culture? Check out this blog from FranklinCovey on how to uncover your biases.