Welcome to a thought-provoking exploration of one of the most pressing questions of our time. In a world that thrives on the richness of diverse perspectives and experiences, we find ourselves at a critical juncture. "Where has all the Diversity Gone?!" - a question that resonates deeply with individuals from all walks of life, transcending borders, cultures, and backgrounds. This article is written by Dawn Grzena, Advocate at the Resilience Think Tank, who is excited to guide you through the intricate web of diversity and its pivotal role in shaping our future. The call for diversity, equity, and inclusion is not merely a trend; it's a vital cornerstone of societal progress.
“As we walk the pathway to justice, we must first address our own Unconscious Bias” – Kiana Atkins
I want to acknowledge that this article may make you uncomfortable, possibly upset you, and inspire you to take action, even if that action is private as you dissect what I'm saying. I sincerely hope to achieve all of these things and that we can engage in a meaningful dialogue about the lack of respect and ownership for diversity and inclusion.
I recall several times in my life when I had incredible conversations, even at work, about unconscious bias, racial differences, the lack of equality, and the hard work required to bring about change. It didn't always go well; believe me. However, these conversations, while challenging, never drove anyone to go out and shoot a case of beer. Let's avoid that, shall we? Let’s stay transparent and share thoughts in the comments of this post. On that note: Let’s Go!
In my opinion, it seems that for some, pushing hard on diversity and inclusion is perceived as being aggressive. This label is quickly applied by some during discourse. Conflict in itself is not necessarily bad; candidly, some of life’s storms can clear out a lot of junk and the air. I'm not an advocate of creating conflict; I am an advocate of healthy discourse when there are differing opinions.
If being 'aggressive' means pushing for what is right, not staying silent when there is clear unconscious bias in a conversation, and not allowing toxic behaviors to impinge on either myself or under-represented colleagues, then please, go ahead and call me 'aggressive.' When it comes to implicit/unconscious bias, I'm in the ring with my brothers and sisters. I stand against racist behaviors, inequalities in getting a seat at the table, and anything that becomes a barrier to diversity and inclusion with a passion that can be unsettling to some. And I'm fine with that. I say bring it.
How did we get to this place of such intolerance? That the mere sight of someone who is different, or someone who has differing opinions than us, causes such violent reactions. Are we destined to swirl in this tide pool forever, or will we actually do the hard work to dig out the roots of our... what? Fear of change? Fear of losing something?
I’m not sure of the value of no diversity, especially when data indicates how crucial it is for all of us. All of us cause pain with our unconscious bias. I have yet to meet someone who does not have implicit bias, yet it is rare to meet someone who is open to fighting this and willing to change. It’s time we admit this not only to ourselves; we need to be transparent and admit we have work to do on this topic.
I’ll go first. Being a white woman, I have unspoken privilege, all because I’m white. I grew up in a family that, at times, was racist and not open to differences. I could share stories, but I am unwilling to give it any more energy and space but suffice it to say what I learned is not how I live today. Unconscious bias is not new and we all have it in some way. The real questions to me are:
What do each of us need to do to push back?
How do we identify implicit bias when we encounter it?
Why do we make progress only to ignore lessons learned?
For me, it’s become one of those silent diseases humanity that we refuse to cure. I say refuse because we live it every day, get outraged and march for equal rights. Religions globally talk about ‘peace on earth’ and yet we are bent on ‘saving’ those that don’t believe what we do.
What does this have to do with diversity? Everything. Mix this with the lack of tolerance, accountability, being authentic, empathy, and action, and well, we have a situation here that must be discussed a lot more than it is. For diversity to become infused into our DNA, we must be open to change. Not only change within ourselves; change around us must also be facilitated. This means checking ourselves when we diminish others around us, even a little.
What I find interesting is that this is an open secret; it's discussed, and leaders in almost every company I've been employed by have talked about increasing diversity in senior management positions, hiring practices, and other workplace policies. Few companies go beyond mere discussion. Actions are not always taken, nor are consequences delivered when someone is quite biased in their views and leverages them to diminish others. Why is this the case?"
All of this is interesting, however, the core of what must be discussed is what I alluded to earlier. How do we defeat this villain unconscious bias? For me, the last of being self-aware with our own implicit bias is at the core (with other things) on why diversity is still pushed to the shadows.
I’ve heard story after story, along with my own experience, of pushing back to leaders and pushback comes fast & furious. This takes several forms that are now, sadly, a part of vocabulary. A few are:
Getting the line “I thought this was a safe place for me to say these things; I guess I need to watch what I say in front of you.”
Losing out on promotions, raises, or even funding for your programs.
Getting that label: Aggressive.
Finally, when the ‘tone police’ show up because the listener just becomes too uncomfortable with hard conversations.
I enjoy baking, and the holidays are my favorite time to do it. Baking is all about the right ingredients, balanced flavors, and not using outdated ingredients. Looking at this from a diversity lens according to Andrés Tapia, “Diversity is a mix, and inclusion is making the mix work.” If we take our baking analogy, let’s not use outdated beliefs, toxic behaviors, or 'fake' anything to taint the work of mixing our batter.
Let’s understand the fear black parents have for their children, and the heart wrenching conversation that they must have with their children. I’m speaking about “the talk” which, if you haven’t heard of it is this: what you need to do when pulled over, so you don’t become a statistic. This includes having all documentation in the visor of your car, hands high and on the steering wheel. Don’t talk unless spoken to. Don’t reach under your seat or to the glove compartment. Not getting this talk can literally mean life or death for some. And I can already hear feedback:
“Dawn, this is important for anyone being pulled over”; “just common sense”; “you're blowing this out of proportion”.
Let’s dive into this example: the rate of police shootings between 2015 – October 2023 stood at 5.7% per million of the population. For white Americans, the rate was *2.2% per million. Let that sink in for a moment. Living in the US, an adult in your life sits you down and teaches you on how not to die if pulled over by the police. For me, when I get pulled over, I do freak out, but I never fear for my life. However you land on this example, remember this. Perception is real. Data is real. This is real.
While this can be disheartening, we have the power and the ability to incite change. In my opinion, bring it home first.
Acknowledge your bias. Be honest with yourself about your own unconscious bias. It’s that old saying “Know Thyself.” I try to be unflinchingly honest about where I need to check myself, and yet I’m still learning. Again, we all have biases, so don’t fear the unknown. If you're struggling with what these might be, ask a trusted friend or colleague for candid, judgment-free feedback. The willingness to dig into the root of our own bias is an important step in understanding our own stereotypes and prejudice.
Push the boundaries of your comfort zone. This is different for everyone, but, in general, it can be diminished by getting to know people on an individual level. Volunteer with people that you want to learn more about or with an organization that is pushing back on the threat of diversity. Another way to do this is not to sit with the same colleague every day. Move around and spend time with people from different cultural and academic backgrounds, etc. This will build your cultural competence and lead to better understanding.
Acknowledge mistakes. Seriously, we are human. Sometimes we don’t read the room correctly and ask what is not an appropriate question, even when it’s asked with genuine curiosity. When this happens, raise that hand and apologize. Offer to talk it out with anyone you might have offended. Here is the trick, though: Listen. Don’t try to justify your actions. Listen. Take time to reflect on the conversation and make adjustments where you can. And most importantly, remember, if someone comes to you about something you said, don’t forget it’s not about you in that moment. If they care enough about giving feedback, be grateful.
Be Accountable. Practice self-monitoring and regulation. Interrupt biased thinking and adopt non-discriminatory behavior.
Avoid assumptions. For example, my boss said that she didn't offer me the project because I have a new baby and there's some travel. Don't assume you know best, as you may jump to the wrong conclusion.
It’s time we normalise the conversation around implicit bias and hold all those in any type of leadership positions accountable when they don’t model diverse and equality behaviours. Raise it up if you have bosses that are not equality-based. For example, if a male colleague talks over a female colleague, tactfully point out that you wanted to hear what she had to say. If your boss only ever assigns the stretching projects to the guys or your white colleagues, have a quiet word.
About Dawn Grzena
Dawn Grzena is the founder of B4TheCrisis and is passionate about all aspects of prepping for storms that disrupt lives – both professional and personal. She is a blogger, writer, and speaker. Her current project is working on Operational Metrics Standardization and digging into the tough conversations in Operational Resilience.