February 12, 2020
“I looked at the social worker, bewildered. The program she was touting seemed to make a similar assumption to the one she had made about me—that I didn’t have a job.” —Claire Perlman, on the assumptions programs like Access-A-Ride make about the people with disabilities they serve.
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You see them all the time: articles claiming that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. Usually, if you read beyond the headline, you find that training does work—under the right circumstances. To be successful, unconscious bias training must be well-designed and implemented by people committed to change. It should also target those willing to change, e.g., people who support diversity but need help examining their biases. As Dr. J. Luke Wood puts it, “You simply cannot have a training change someone who has no desire to actually change.”
Finally, unconscious bias training should be a component of a robust and multifaceted diversity initiative. Dr. Wood points out that no issue as complex as unconscious bias can be addressed with one strategy alone, but that it is a “powerful tool for change” when used in concert with other strategies.
You may be thinking, But how do we address colleagues who are decidedly unwilling to change or against diversity initiatives? If your diversity programming is integrated into all aspects of your organization, from hiring to retainment to advancement, you’re on the right track. Your colleagues' diversity resistance will likely shrink as their exposure to and understanding of difference grows.
Dr. Wood offers specific strategies you can implement in tandem with unconscious bias training. Among other strategies, he recommends having diversity advocates take part in search committees and hiring teams, developing inclusive job postings and selection criteria, and ensuring articulated support from leadership.
Transformational leadership practices include having open conversations, according to D&I resolution trainer Susan Woods. As she points out, “Genuine, authentic workplace interactions cannot be built on shame; both parties need to see value in working with each other and in themselves.” Transformational leaders also reduce conflict by acknowledging team differences, rather than adopting a colorblind mentality. Lastly, it’s important to remember that “conflict is not a failure unless it is mismanaged or not dealt with properly.”
We appreciate the reminder that, as with all major workplace changes, the road to increasing and retaining diversity is often bumpy and challenging. Far from getting discouraged by workplace conflict, managers can view it as an opportunity to build their leadership skills and foster greater levels of understanding among diverse teams.
Have your workplace diversity efforts ever been met with resistance and conflict? If the answer is yes, think of how you reacted and whether there was an opportunity to exercise transformational leadership. Next time, consider the transformational leadership skills outlined above to work through conflict, rather than avoiding it.
Have you ever wondered why advocates promote gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but not in healthcare, early education, and domestic roles (HEED)? At first, it may seem obvious. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM fields, in part because of myths about women’s abilities and interests and an unwelcoming, predominantly male environment.
But men are likewise severely underrepresented in HEED fields, so why don’t we address it?
1) Research shows that we attribute underrepresention of women in STEM to issues like discrimination and stereotyping, which we’re more likely to try to address. However, we tend to attribute the underrepresentation of men in HEED to issues like motivation and ability, which we’re usually less concerned about.
2) Research shows that fields highly populated by men, such as STEM, get a boost in status. HEED fields, on the other hand, are viewed as lower-status, traditionally “women’s work.” Therefore, the gender disparity within HEED fields is considered to be status quo and receives less attention in society.
Women are overrepresented in HEED fields in part because of myths about women and caring professions. If more men enter HEED, other men interested in HEED and women interested in STEM may find it easier to envision themselves in non-traditional roles. Achieving gender equity in HEED may also challenge the myth that STEM is men’s work and HEED is women’s work, to everyone’s benefit.
You can promote gender equity in HEED as part of your work. Encourage male mentees to consider HEED careers, affirm the value and status of HEED work, and challenge false assumptions about men’s poor suitability for HEED, and women’s poor suitability for STEM.