Real-life game-changer learnings on diversity and bias
from unlikely sources. My thought process behind this post is simple. If a minority and HR Exec can show he is still learning and wrestling with bias, maybe it will make it easier for others. If I am finding I need to rethink how I view and treat bias, maybe others can benefit. Maybe you are:
- A minority and confused about how you should look at your own ethnicity
- In the majority or a minority and looking to learn more
- A member of either group and feel you feel as if bias isn’t a thing
Like most, I have had mixed experiences on the topic of diversity and unconscious bias in the last year. I have had productive conversations where I have acquired new learnings. I have also had conversations where I ended up frustrated. But mostly, I have learned a lot about myself. Consequently, how I think about and approach bias has changed.
I have talked with minorities and the majority. I have had both good and bad experiences with both.
Overall, I am glad conversations are happening more often, and awareness is growing.
Diversity is a difficult topic
I am hoping this series will do two things:
- Add additional perspective to conversations as everyone is different. Even members within a group think differently around bias.
- Help me personally make sense of my own experiences. I now realize that I was showing unconscious bias to others and to myself.
I share my goals and guidelines in my first post within this series. What I want to accomplish and what I want to avoid. Please read this for further perspective.
I am embracing new ideas, which I appreciate.
I have been unsuccessful in defending personal experiences and the existence of bias.
It’s difficult to figure out how to make a difference or deal with the indifference
Learning moment 1, anyone can make a difference
Recently, a friend emailed me out of the blue. This is a friend I hadn’t heard from in years. He had attended a career development session I facilitated almost 15 years ago. In the midst of the social unrest towards Asians, his email arrived with perfect timing. Prior to his email, I was frustrated with many acts of bias in the media. Despite the public’s acknowledgment of bias, I didn’t think any change was happening. I was skeptical that any progress would be made in the future.
Email that inspired me
I wanted to reach out because you had a talk around the “bamboo ceiling” during my time there that really stuck with me as an Asian American. You mentioned speaking up about your accomplishments and don’t expect folks to give you stuff just because you work hard. I took that to heart. Viewing you as an Asian American leader at (X company), it was so amazing to see the representation at the leadership level and just the representation and mentorship I got while at (X Company). And I think it was really due to the culture you and the team created.
Anyways, I felt I should send you a note of “thanks”. I’ve been doing my best to pay that forward to the next generation.
We can all make a difference
WTF??? I had no idea. In my little way, I was making a difference. My parents are rolling in their graves at the thought! It might just be one person, but today he is an influencer. Fifteen years later, I am learning the message stuck and is being shared!
What I shared with him was my personal career development philosophy. I try to share that same philosophy with this blog, and with everyone I work with.
All employees should speak up about their accomplishments.
Hard work, results, and showing up on time aren’t enough.
Managers are not mindreaders. They don’t always know what you have accomplished.
Below are two posts from 2017 where I give real-life examples and consequences of a White female I worked with who wasn’t comfortable speaking up.
- Why hard work goes unnoticed in Corporate America: https://hrnasty.com/hard-work/
- How to talk about accomplishments without being a braggart: https://hrnasty.com/career-accomplishments/
Learning moment 2: Unconscious bias from one minority to another
I recently heard a Black and White couple speak about bias. The couple owns their own business and one of their missions is teaching financial literacy to minorities. The Black husband gave examples of where he recognized he was showing unconscious bias.
Specifically, he caught himself showing unconscious bias towards other Black men
This admission of unconscious bias got me thinking about my own behavior. I quickly realized I have hold stereotypes of other Asian groups. I hope my admissions as a minority will give others permission to rethink their personal philosophies. That example from a Black man really got me thinking. As a minority:
- I have to ask myself: Am I recognizing all instances where I am demonstrating unconscious bias? Probably not.
- I know others are having difficult conversations on the topic of bias.
- I recognize that as an Asian, I show bias toward other Asians and the majority.
Hopeful for the future
The perception for most minorities is that bias has only been paid lip service. For the first time in a number of generations, diversity and bias have become a prominent topic. I am hopeful because I believe a new window is opening. The majority is beginning to see and believe issues around diversity and bias.
Many see bias as a single incident that doesn’t affect them.
These events affect families, communities, and generations.
For one of the best examples of generational learning around bias, watch Season 4 of The Wire.
Learning moment no. 3: White colleagues speaking up
I work with a young White millennial. She is more mature than most of her peers. Her observations and ideas are so valued, executives ask for her opinion on a regular basis. She has stuck up for me, other minorities, and been one of the biggest influences in how our company handles diversity and approach towards Black Lives Matter. Yes, I am the head of HR and have worked more years than she has been alive. I go to her for counsel, and she pushes me to think outside my personal and historical experience. She isn’t preachy, she is diplomatic. She isn’t emotional, she is rational. Thank you ZL.
It’s OK to have a difference of opinion
I recently interviewed a Black executive at a Fortune 100 company on the topic of bias. He explained that he was tired of hearing people tell him “he was articulate” or he was “not what they were expecting”. The insinuation was that he was articulate “for a Black man” or more professional than other Black people. He wanted to be recognized for who he was as a person and not for the color of his skin.
At the other end of the bias spectrum, I have been proud of “fitting in.” When executive colleagues tell me that they don’t think of me as a minority, the naïve optimist in me would take this as a compliment. I made an effort to fit in via my presentation layer: clothes, speech, and mannerisms. Am I a sell-out? I still believe that in the game called Corporate America, if you want to win long-term, you need to figure out who is making the rules. Society, your boss, or you. It’s not us. This is one I am still trying to figure out. I am not sure there is a right or a wrong answer. Our backgrounds are both very different, as our conclusions.
This Black executive didn’t accuse me, persecute me, or make me feel guilty about trying to fit in.
The big lesson learned was his acceptance of my behavior and helping me on my journey
At the end of the day, I need to be comfortable that I am thinking about this and trying to improve. I am not going to solve bias, but I can feel good about little steps in the right direction. I am glad that I recognized that I still need to learn.
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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