“Combating our unconscious biases is hard, because they don’t feel wrong; they feel right. But it’s necessary to fight against bias in order to create a work environment that supports and encourages diverse perspectives and people.”


Laszlo Bock, CEO and co-founder of Humu, Former SVP of People Operations at Google

Like it or not, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, we are all prone to unconscious bias. As I write about in my book Inclusion, even those of us who do this work for a living still struggle with our all-too-human wiring.

When I walk into a room of all-white male executives, for example, it’s easiest for me to make assumptions about who they are, only to discover as I ask them to share what diversity means to them that most of them also have a story associated with identity or background, and the experience of exclusion, which may be related to ethnicity, socioeconomic class, political affiliation, or family, to name a few.

Almost as often as I make these assumptions, I discover that I’ve made an error that says more about me than it does about the other individual. This is an important reminder to me—and should be for all of us—that everyone has a story about diversity.

Everyone has a story about diversity. Click To Tweet

It’s also critical for me to discuss this connection in my conversation with those who enjoy privilege—namely, the men in the room who have the power to influence changes that would affect many in their organization.

It is critical that they too see themselves as having a story to share.

Rather than view unconscious bias as an unwelcome intrusion in my thoughts, I see it as a reminder to be watchful and to keep learning, to share my process and progress with others, and to put myself into situations where I am confronted with a broader array of examples of “different from me.”

Others certainly may not enjoy this journey as much as I, getting stuck in resistance, stubbornly defending their own lens as the only way to look at a situation.

They protect themselves and their beliefs and shore up their power and position for what they think is survival and maybe self-protection, but their behavior actually has the opposite effect and can send damaging ripple effects outward, especially in organizations where so many still look upward for cues about norms, behaviors, and what’s acceptable.

Leaders are watched very closely. And the scrutiny CEOs are subjected to, in this social media age—in which one remark can lead to public outcry, fallout, and even being fired—means it’s not just other leaders in an organization who are watching closely, but society as a whole.

The world is watching… and inclusion is now a baseline, especially for millennial customers and employees.

When faced with a situation in which a company representative has said the wrong thing, an organization must take swift and intentional action to rebuild trust without delay. And, depending on the severity of the misstep, action must not only be immediate, but it must be long term. 

The world is watching... and inclusion is now a baseline Click To Tweet

The good news is that this presents executives with an opportunity to become more self-aware; to begin their journey along the Ally Continuum; to demonstrate a commitment to building a forward-thinking and inclusive workplace not just today, but every day.

The bad news is that the polarization that can happen around the outward expression of unconscious bias can send an unintended message to the people we need to participate in this discussion the most, making them feel like they won’t ever be successful in navigating inclusion.

The question is:

How can we invite people to broaden their understanding and change their perspective? How can we invite people to do better; to be better?

For a company going through the throes of a PR disaster, how do we get people to revisit their unconscious bias without bringing an entire company to its knees? 

We have seen companies respond, via punishment, to those involved in those disasters. I have heard mixed reviews from many executives: some stating punishment is the right response, others stating training should be, and some stating that there should be a mixture of both.

Being in this position is never what any company wants, but there is no silver bullet. There is no ‘right’ answer.

Some people are born being allies who are passionate about equality. Others learn to be over time. Regardless, all allies—and future allies—require support and coaching and trust in order to progress.

If you are a business leader who has made the business commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion, like the 150+ leading CEOs who have pledged to act on supporting a more inclusive workplace, and you’d like to explore what that kind of support might look like for you, get in touch today.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on this new landscape that is still taking shape? I’d love to know.

Let me know in the comments.