So, we have the same experience… right?
Now, if you asked me “how often?,” I'd say “randomly, every now and then.” But if you asked Mohammed, his answer would likely be “yes, every time”.
The cause of this is bias, either conscious or unconscious.
Now, picture the group conversation, where someone is moaning about the delay at airport security and everyone is nodding sagely.
We've all been there, right?
Well, not necessarily. In reality, there’s a big difference between possibility and frequency.
Some people experience these issues far more than others, and the reason why is often as simple as appearance.
This is just one example of how we all live in different worlds and face different biases.
Sometimes, we think we understand the experience of others because 'we've all been there'. But, in reality, we often don’t.
Pictured: Laura Liswood (left), Karina Keisler (right)
I was recently honoured to meet Laura Liswood. Laura is Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders and the author of a book I'd recommend, The Loudest Duck.
Laura also happens to be a 'Diversity Queen' and her list of credentials and achievements is both impressive and very long.
Among them, Laura is the oldest female mountain bike police officer in the United States and a Sergeant in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
When we spoke, Laura used this analogy to highlight the biases that exist, the assumptions people make and how sometimes we don't fully consider these biases because we assume 'we've all been there'.
She talked about hailing a cab and being passed by. It happens to white females in Washington D.C. apparently. In other words, it’s possible. Ask the Hispanic or black neighbour, she said, and they'll tell you it happens all the time. In other words, it’s not just possible, but frequent.
Because of bias.
Laura's view (one I support) is that if we truly want to engender cognitive diversity in the workplace, we need to be honest with ourselves about our biases, and make an effort to put them aside. We need to acknowledge the differences we all bring to work and ensure an even playing field, so we can take full advantage of diversity.
Here are a few ideas that are easily implemented:
One incredibly eye-opening activity my team participated in at NBN Co was a 'diversity walk'. Everyone is given an identity. Keep it real… a single mum, someone who works from home every Wednesday due to a fixed commitment, a married Muslim man, a person who suffers anxiety, a working parent, a gay man with partner and child, a single grad, etc.
Then, everyone lines up next to each other. Various scenarios are read out and, if you are able to participate, you step forward. If not, you step back. Make sure the scenarios are exactly like those you'd expect in a workplace. For example, you have a team offsite and everyone is expected to present; you are asked to travel at short notice; family day in the office; drinks at short notice; etc. The exercise quickly demonstrates just how 'everyday events' impact each of us differently and perhaps how exclusive some of our 'team activities' can be.
Please share your thoughts and ideas – I'd love to hear them.