Last week I co-delivered an unconscious bias program for a group of senior leaders. My colleague, Natalie McDonagh and I created an emergent learning space that blended intellectual, theoretical, discursive, artistic, experiential and discursive means to provide the opportunity for participants to notice how bias informs thinking, acting and feeling.
Allowing the mind to reveal itself through objects, art and experiences highlighted the powerful mental and organisational frameworks we all carry, use and instinctively protect.
Much was revealed to the group about how personal, gender, organisational and cultural bias:
* produces discriminatory disadvantage for women and a disproportionate advantage to men;
* unconsciously diminishes personal choice, affects judgement, impedes decision making and limits individual agency and power;
* is formed by conditioning, training and internalised messages about what is and isn’t possible;
* contributes to misunderstandings and confusion that undermine confidence and self-belief;
* is amplified in organisations that are filled with people who have all been trained and conditioned to act in certain ways and follow certain rules to get things done;
* is revealed through resistance to new ideas, and to different ways of operating and getting things done;
* keeps women small and invisible when they have every reason to take up the space and be seen, noticed and heard;
*over-emphasises positional power, status and hierarchy rather than individual capacity to act wisely from an empowered place of personal authority and agency.
Most people are resistant to noticing bias when confronted with it at a rational cognitive level. This resistance is triggered by fear, embarrassment or the personal and vital inclination to defend and protect ourselves and our vulnerability.
The thing is, when we fear exposing our vulnerability or when fear overwhelms us, we typically perpetuate what we are actually frightened of. We shut down, withdraw, defend, deny, hide become rigid and binary in our thinking.
When gripped with fear, unconsciously held, we lose our capacity to think expansively, productively, inclusively about the decisions we make, the ideas we hold and the actions we take.
The most courageous in the program walked towards their vulnerability, faced their fear, embarrassment or discomfort and recognised in that moment a different way of seeing, being and doing.
The program was highly praised and a recommendation was made to roll it out to others in the organisation.