Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
I don’t know about you, but I wish things were different—a lot different. I wish things were different politically and culturally, and let’s not forget the way people communicate with each other these days. It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to engage in peaceful civil discourse.
But, this is where we stand.
We stand here stunned, confused and in shock. It is true some people are happy with where we are as a country. And, we must acknowledge their stance. We don’t have to agree but we have to seek to understand. Over the past 8 years, it seemed as if our country had made significant social progress—not just for women and people of color, but for the LGBTQ and religious communities as well. But the results of this last election have left us feeling shaken, insecure and unmoored as we see hatred, racial tensions, and discord seeping through the cracks of society.
So then we have our role to consider. What are we to do when we actively witness hateful acts or biased conversations occurring, either towards minorities or the underrepresented, or amongst colleagues and friends? What is our role?
First, we must understand what bias means. Second, we must recognize that we all have biases. And third, we must consider our roles as leaders. We can lead in any space: work, community, church etc. It’s important to understand that bias rears his ugly head in every aspect of our lives.
So, what is this thing called bias? Webster’s definition of bias offers the most simplistic view. Bias is having or showing an unfair tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others.
If we consider ourselves to be leaders, we have a responsibility – a duty to call out our own inequalities and/or injustices. In fact, our responsibility is two-fold: we must stand up for inequalities of all types, and we must call out biases when we see or hear them.
If you think that you are a leader, then you must be an advocate for justice. Period! And you must recognize that you have power, access, visibility and authority to use your voice for those who have no voice or a voice that is diminished because of bias.
Then knowing this, we all have a decision to make:
Are you comfortable defending the importance of equality in the workplace? Or, do you find yourself remaining silent when witnessing exchanges where bias is clearly influencing the outcomes of certain situations?
If you are not comfortable speaking out and you are unwilling to call out bias, prejudice, racism, or any other injustice or inequality when you see it, then your role has changed. You are no longer a leader…you have become a part of the silent neutral majority. And you are no longer making a difference. You have made a choice to silence your own voice, but the void is filled with much worse than your silence. It is filled with an assumed endorsement of approval for use of bias and inequalities.
Standing up against inequalities like prejudice and the ism’s is imperative, but let’s examine the impact of a leader’s silence.
1) If left unchecked, bias and stereotypes can blend into prejudice.
In order to navigate through challenging situations where bias is present, as cultural leaders, we must apply critical thinking skills. Dr. Edward de Bono (who coined the term “critical thinking”) wrote a book entitled Six Thinking Hats: Looking at a Decision From All Points of View, where he implores leaders to examine situations from multiple perspectives, a skill critical for successful leaders.
If leaders learn to utilize their whole brain, processing information through both lobes (both intellectually and emotionally), they will be better equipped to not only acknowledge the bias in an intellectually capacity, but will also have the emotional acuity to stop the prejudice in its tracks. You can read more about Dr. de Bono’s work and research here: https://www.edwdebono.com/ideas.
Also, according to Lisa J. Cohen, Ph.D., we must remember that stereotypes and prejudice go hand in hand. By definition, stereotypes limit and disregard people's individuality and lend themselves to negative and derogatory assumptions. When that happens, the stereotype blends into prejudice, therefore making the prejudice very difficult to see.
2) Positive inter-group contact can reduce social prejudice.
In the 1950's, Gordon Allport introduced this hypothesis of inter-group contact and found that under positive conditions this type of contact could reduce social prejudice, an imperative skill for leaders to utilize. According to Allport, the necessary conditions included cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of local authorities and cultural norms. You can find out more about Dr. Allport’s work and research here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/handy-psychology-answers/201101/the-psychology-prejudice-and-racism
Finding the courage to be a leader requires vulnerability, strength and courage. We must be vulnerable to stand in a space of being uncomfortable. Yet we must leverage this feeling to a degree that it motivates us to call out racism and bias, and we must be strong enough to resist becoming a part of the silent neutral majority. Remember this: part of the reason people don’t engage in dialogue about race, bias, privilege or any kind of injustice is because they are fearful of saying the wrong thing or being judged.
But, thankfully, we don’t need to know everything about injustices, inequality, bias or racism; we simply need to stand up, be willing to tell our own truths, and be willing to express our heartfelt feelings for those who are limited in all ways because of inequalities and injustices. All we have to do is be authentic. Choose to be a leader, and not a part of the silent neutral majority. So many people need you, especially today.
As a leader, consider the following:
✔Open your ears, head, eyes and heart and intentionally observe interactions for bias, including your own.
✔Become conscious of the opportunities that you are afforded (or not afforded) because of your gender or ethnicity.
✔Connect with different people from outside the work environment, where the playing field is even, and engage in a positive experience with each other people.
✔Recognize and honor your body’s response to observing bias.
✔Find your voice and dig for the courage to call out bias, prejudice, privilege, racism or injustices when you observe it in the workplace.
✔Take the blinders off your eyes and become aware not only of the things you experience but the experiences of those different from you as well.
In conclusion, if you’ve found yourself inadvertently slipping into the realm of the silent neutral majority, you can make a new choice. You can choose to be a leader who stands publicly as a champion for equality. What choice will you make? I hope that you’ll choose to stand tall and convicted as an advocate… that is what leaders do.
Blog inspired from Trudy Bourgeois’ upcoming Book, EQUALITY: Courageous Conversations about Race, Men and Women to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough