Minisode 10: Building Awareness of Bias in the Workplace with Jenn DeWall

Bias in the workplace affects us all. 70% of Executives now agree that diversity and inclusion is an important issue, and 67% of job seekers say a diverse workforce is important when considering a job offer.  Bias in the workplace can cause an increased turnover and reduce productivity. In fact, highly inclusive companies see 1.4 times more revenue than similar organizations.

In this special minisode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, our host, Jenn DeWall, talks about becoming aware of bias in the workplace, and how leaders can work to create a more diverse and inclusive experience within their organizations.

Full Transcript Below: 

Jenn DeWall: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining and downloading and listening. Thank you so much for being here on today’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. This is Jenn DeWall, and I’m going to be doing a minisode on the very important topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Which if you’ve been listening to us throughout this month, you’ve noticed that we’ve interviewed a few different thought leaders just to get their take on how we, as leaders, can create more inclusive spaces. So we can make sure that people feel included that they can succeed, they can be their best, and know we appreciate them for who they are.

Diversity is Being Asked to the Party. Inclusion is Being Asked to Dance

Now, for those that might be unfamiliar with this term, I’m going to, I’m going to share a quote, and this is how Verna Myers– she is an expert, a thought leader within the space of diversity, equity and inclusion. And she’s also the VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix and how she defines diversity and inclusion is like this. “Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” So diversity says, all are welcome. We want you here. And inclusion says, while you’re here, we see you, please participate with us, engage with us. And then equity would be essentially making sure that we all have that same opportunity to do it. It’s so important because it’s related to our success as an organization, to our success as leaders, and to the success of every individual that walks through and does work for you. It’s important. Companies with cultures of inclusivity promote and give voice to a workforce of people of varying gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural background, and sexual orientation. Those are just to name a few things. That says that no matter how you show up, no matter what your differences are, we can still find that commonality. We can still find the bridge.

Diversity & Inclusion is not Just a Fad

And what’s important is that companies don’t just look at inclusion and diversity as checking a box, or maybe a fad. It needs to be seen as more than a fad. It can’t just be a slogan. You can’t just say, Hey, this is the place to work because people A, won’t want to work for you and B, we need to make a change. And by the way, if you want to know why it’s important- companies with a more diverse workplace outperform their less diverse competitors. We know that diversity has a host of benefits,  and so hopefully, as you’re listening, you’re starting to say, gosh, why are we not focusing on this?

The challenge for you, if you’re listening to this, is that you are a leader, and creating an inclusive space is not something that can just be resigned to a human resources department. It is something that everyone must take on, and it’s up to today’s leaders to make significant progress in bringing more voices to the table and overcoming any obstacles in the way of creating a diverse workforce. We’re talking about allyship, making sure that people know that they can feel included, that they can feel connected, that you appreciate their differences, their expertise, their experience, their past whatever that may be, but you appreciate them as an individual.

The Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

What are the benefits of a diverse workforce? Well, productivity— we’re working better together. We’re also working smarter and not harder by allowing everyone to have a voice, bringing unique insight, which can drive innovation, different ways of doing things that can put us ahead in terms of the market or our competition. When you have a more diverse and inclusive workplace, you can also reduce turnover because people feel safe, which is a fundamental foundational element that everyone must feel at a workplace. If you want them to truly engage and do their best.

In addition,  all about that engagement. When I feel like I’m invited to the party and asked to dance, well, absolutely. I want to choose what song comes on. I want to make up a group dance maybe. You get where I’m going with this. We are more engaged when we feel more included, and we collaborate better. There are so many benefits of diversity and inclusion. There are just so many benefits, and it’s one thing that we have control over. However, there are some systems that may have been created earlier that didn’t necessarily take into consideration the value of diversity. And what I mean is that maybe there are some faulty things in how we think. Maybe, and really it comes down to unconscious bias.

Understanding Bias in the Workplace

So where do you start when you’re thinking about how do I assess my organization? How do I assess my own role as a leader? Well, we need to understand, and this is just one part of where to start from diversity, equity, and inclusion. And that is understanding our own biases. Now we partnered with a thought leader, Dr. Tyrone Holmes. And what he would say is that your biases aren’t bad. We all have them. You can’t get away from it. However, we need to be aware of when our biases are coming into play that is causing us to make conscious or subconscious decisions and choices that could marginalize or not take into account an underrepresented group. For those that are unfamiliar with unconscious bias, by definition, it’s a collection of preferences, attitudes, and stereotypes that influence thinking and behavior in a way we don’t usually realize. We’re not necessarily aware of it. It’s a shortcut for our brain saying, okay, if this is that, then this, and it’s something that we built over life.It’s kind of like a computer where we programmed it. And our goal as leaders is to understand our programming and understand if we need an update.

The Maternal Wall

Now, the common places that you may see patterns of bias show up in the workplace, you could see it from the maternal perspective. For example, women with children are often questioned about their ability to care for their families, as well as staying committed to their careers. They’re also regularly met with disapproval if they seem too career-focused, how do you win there? However, men with children are often seen as more responsible and given priority for raises and promotions. That is a bias. We cannot simply believe that because women have had children that they’re unable to focus on their careers or that they’re not deserving of an additional raise or that in some way, we need to really keep them in a box. So in case, they have to jump back and, you know, care for their family. Interestingly, there’s a gender bias within that.

Prove it Again

Another bias that can show up in a workplace is called the, prove it again, bias. Now, this is when maybe some groups are given presumption of competence. You just assume like, Hey, we’ve worked together. I know that you’re going to do a great job. And so over and over, they are given the opportunity to take on more prestigious projects or more visible projects. In contrast, other people still have to keep proving it until they can get there. However, the more that you keep focusing on one person and seeing that person as someone great, then you’re not allowing someone else to learn, grow, develop, and also show you the value that they can bring to your organization.

Walking the Tightrope

Another type of bias in the workplace is the tight group that the, excuse me, the tight rope. And this is really when some groups experience a more narrow range of acceptable behaviors than others. And it affects their interactions with their peers. Their bosses. An example could be this- when black men or women are afraid to speak up with a differing opinion, for fear of being seen as an “angry black person.” Like, Oh my gosh, if you have an emotion, well, then there’s going to be an adjustment. That’s going into a generalization. We need to check ourselves. If we have any of those types of judgments, it’s not fair to say, Oh, they show up that way, and then tolerate someone else doing it. We can see that inequity. Children can see that.

Tug of War Bias

Another type of bias that exists is the tug of war. And this is when disadvantaged groups find themselves pitted against each other. And it’s usually because of differing approaches to assimilating to the dominant culture that exists in that workplace. So it could feel like a pressure to conform to the opinion of your peers of the same gender or race to maintain status within that peer group.

Affinity Bias

Now there are, of course, other biases that exist within the workforce. A big one is the affinity bias, which is the tendency to gravitate towards people that are most like ourselves. And that makes sense. That’s one of the easiest ways. If I think about it to make friends, you might say, Oh my gosh, if I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, I’m going to try and find the person that might have the shirt of my favorite band, or it looks like they really liked the color purple. We might subconsciously look for those things that are most like us because they make us feel more comfortable. Our brain says it’s safe. We understand it. We are programmed that way. And when it comes down to the workplace, when we make decisions with our affinity bias. That’s when we can have what Tyrone Holmes would call— and other people could call— a monoculture or just a singular culture where it’s very homogenous. Everyone looks the same talks, the same thinks the same. And you can consider if you have everyone looking the same, how in the heck are you going to be able to find multiple solutions to a problem? We need diversity.

Beauty Bias

Another bias that you can see in the workplace is the beauty bias to assuming that because of someone’s physical appearance, that they may be more intelligent, more capable, more X, Y, Z, and it actually has nothing to do with their own intellect experience. So we need to be cautious. Are you gravitating towards people that are more, maybe, aesthetically pleasing to the eye based on media cultures and norms? Well, that could be a detriment for your team. And you’re going to be marginalizing someone that actually could be a huge contributor to your success.

Inclusive Leadership is Needed to Overcome Bias in the Workplace

So why do we need to change? Well, 57% of employees say they believe their company should improve diversity in their internal workforce. And nearly a quarter of employees report that they have experienced discrimination at their current place of work— 25%. To me, that’s insane to know that you have discrimination for your race, for your culture, for your religion, sexual orientation work should be a safe place, a place that you can go and bring out the best of your abilities to contribute and invest in the organization. It should not be a place where you feel afraid to show up in one way or that you could have discrimination or just being a different religion or culture, so on and so forth.So what can you do as a leader? What are some of the things that you can do? Well, you want to focus on six key traits. These are the traits of inclusive leadership.

Make a Visible Commitment

The first trait is that you have a visible commitment. Inclusive leaders are not only able to talk about their commitment to diversity, but they take real action. So it’s not just talking about it. They actually are to take the expression. Don’t talk about it. Be about it. They’re very focused on creating a more inclusive place as well as holding people accountable. So that means that they are not staying silent. If they observed microaggressions or unfairness within the workplace, they are going to call that out.

Be Humble

Another trait of an inclusive leadership or leader is humility. And these leaders are modest about their own talents. They are able to admit when they don’t know something. And when they’ve made mistakes in their ability to be humble, creates a safe space for others to feel free, to contribute, make mistakes, without feeling the fear of consequence. So on and so forth. So humility saying, I don’t have it all figured out, and that’s okay. I’m here to learn from you. I’m also perfectly imperfect,  making mistakes, and we want everyone to have that same permission to operate in that way.

Be Aware of Unconscious Bias

Another trait of an inclusive leader is an awareness of your bias. We just talked about some only a few of the biases that exist in the workplace. But we, as leaders, need to know that we are all biased and inclusive leaders show personal awareness and openness to feedback about their personal blind spots. So they’re not running from it. They’re not trying to pretend they don’t have it. They are owning that bias exists, and they’re actively working to try and figure out how they can mitigate it from their processes and decisions.

Be Curious About Others

Another trait of an inclusive leader is a curiosity about others. And that kind of goes back to humility, but really,  curiosity, they are often described as open-minded and good listeners and enjoy learning about others. And they can also demonstrate compassion and empathy. Curiosity about others is really the opportunity to connect with anyone, recognizing that we’re more alike than we are different. But we won’t uncover that unless we practice being curious, or even wanting to learn about a specific culture or just something different about someone else.

Dr. Tyrone Holmes gave us an exercise in our recent webinar that said one way to do this is to have people maybe sit down and partners for 90 seconds and share all of the things that they are alike. So maybe we both like the same type of food. Maybe we’ve traveled to the same places, but the goal is to spend 90 seconds finding your common ground, and then you have to do switch it up and do 90 seconds finding all the ways that you are different. The outcome? Well, what Tyrone found is that people actually found more similarities than differences. And then, those similarities were used to form a more trustworthy and collaborative team and environment. So I would suggest that as something that you should do.

Become Culturally Intelligent

The fifth trait of a more inclusive leader is cultural intelligence. So these leaders are sensitive to cultural differences to the cultural differences, and they’re attentive to ways that they can adapt and include them. These leaders might even showcase cultural differences. Hey, how can we learn more about each other? Let’s do lunch and learn, or let’s have a conversation. They want people to know where we all have different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, so on and so forth and let’s celebrate them, pay attention, be respectful to them.

Practice Effective Collaboration

And the final trait of an inclusive leader is effective collaboration. Inclusive leaders empower their teams by encouraging diversity of thought. And they create psychological safety as well as team cohesion. So it’s all about that safe space where you say, I am going to show up this way. You can show up that way. So long as we’re all working together respectfully with kindness and doing our jobs to create success, we’re good. The more that we can take time to slow down and find our similarities, the better that we can resolve conflict, the higher our productivity, and the more engaged we’ll be.

Overcome Bias in the Workplace Through Better Hiring Practices

So how can you start to create a more inclusive workplace culture? We know that biases exist within ourselves, but we also need to understand that biases are going to show up in the structures and systems of our organizations. So one place to start is thinking about your hiring process. Are you overly leveraged in employee referrals? Well, that might cause you to have, again, more of the same homogeneous workforce. Are you looking at, or are you practicing the blind resume vetting process where you remove the name and you truly just look at the skill, are you going to other places outside of maybe a specific university to find different people?

Invest in Learning and Development

And so if it’s not your hiring process, there are so many ways that you can just begin to create a more inclusive space. Another thing you need to do is also invest in your development. How do you educate leaders on how to identify types of discrimination or microaggressions, how to address them appropriately, how to make sure that they know the values that the organization wants to have. You need to develop and train people. You can’t just assume that people are going to make these changes or show up in that way. So we’ve got to make a conscious effort at developing these soft skills. So people know what to do to create the best environment for all to thrive.

Our Diversity Make Us Stronger

You know, in closing this podcast just want to share one final thing that I think really shows the value of connecting. And it’s this quote. “I can do things you can not. You can do things I can not. Put together, we can do great things. (Mother Teresa)“ When we truly understand that our differences are what makes us more successful and that when we work together, we can leverage those strengths and differences in a way that can create something amazing. Well, that’s when we can do great things.

Thank you so much for listening to today’s minisode on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please stay tuned August, where we’re going to be covering a lot of perspectives about bias in the workplace because this is such an important topic. If you enjoyed today’s episode, feel free to share it with your friends or write us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service. And again, remember that we do monthly webinars. You can find more information about them at We do monthly webinars that cover a variety of topics, and we would love to see you there. Thank you so much for listening until next time.