Month: March 2021

Unconscious Bias

March 29, 2021
How Can we Fix What We Can't See?

Unconscious bias is just that. Unconscious. I talk about it a lot when using the tool Predictive Index, when coaching, when discussing emotional intelligence, and of course, when discussing DE&I. But as much as I talk about it, and teach about it, I still get blown away when I see it in action.

I am a strong female leader. I pride myself on being able to speak truth to power. To hold up the mirror to the most senior of leaders, and honestly, hold my own with a room full of male executives. I have a loud voice, a firm handshake, and a pretty kick-ass career journey which helps with confidence and self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong – I have my fair share of imposter syndrome, but that helps keep me fresh and learning.

So when male unconscious bias rears its face in mine, I’m surprised. But maybe I shouldn’t be. Here’s what happened just the other night...

I was at a dinner table at a lovely restaurant (don’t worry – we were outside) with the largest group of people I’ve been with in over a year. Most of the people there knew some (not all) of the other people. Including me. But it was a business dinner, so nothing new there. I was the only woman at the table. THE ONLY WOMAN out of 14 people – most of them very successful businessmen. As I mentioned, I have had a long career where I’ve been surrounded by successful men – not only don’t I mind, but I also actually enjoy it. I like men and feel comfortable with them.

So I’m at the table, eating, talking, learning. And then a new person comes to join – and sits at the other end of the table. I didn’t know him. After dinner, everyone is still comfortably at the table when this new person that I didn’t meet prior to the dinner gets up to leave. He makes his way around the table to say goodbye to everyone. Those that he didn’t know, he made it a point to stop, introduce himself, say a few words, and then move on to the next. He didn’t know the person two down from me, so I saw him do that. He then said goodbye and shook hands with the person next to me. And then he skipped me completely and made his way to the person on the other side of me (who is the person I happened to know best at the table). He continued to move around the table shaking hands and intermittently introducing himself until he made his away all the way around, and then headed out.

I wasn’t angry, or even disappointed. But, I was surprised. I waited for the other men at the table to make a comment. For someone to say “isn’t it weird he didn’t introduce himself to Alicia”, or even for someone to comment “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you to him.” Nothing came. No comment, no mention and honestly, nobody noticed. UNCONSCIOUS bias.

The next day I had a meeting with the colleague that was sitting to my left. I asked him if he noticed the situation. He didn’t. I waited for him to get defensive. He didn’t. He asked a few questions “are you sure he introduced himself to X, because he didn’t know X”. “Yes, I said, he did.” The point is not whether or not I was introduced to him. The point is not even that he skipped me. The point is more that nobody else noticed. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  • Did the man that didn’t introduce himself think I was someone’s wife? Or administrative assistant, and therefore less important?
  • Would anyone have noticed if he didn’t introduce himself and say goodbye to one of the men?
  • If I was a man, would someone have introduced him to me in the first place?

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Actually, I’m not making a mountain out of anything. I haven’t spent time talking about it, or letting it get under my skin. Yet, it’s still sitting there, right on the surface, so I thought I owed it some reflection time.

If I continue to be silent when things like this happen, part of the problem is me. To the rest of the table, this was UNCONSCIOUS. I don’t think they saw it or noticed. And if they did, they didn’t think it was a big deal (it really wasn’t – unless you look at the macro point)…but how can anything change if people that need to see things don’t see them?

It begs a bigger picture question – what am I not seeing? What is happening to other people, in front of my eyes that I don’t see because of my perspective, my frame of reference, my privilege or my unconscious bias? So, here is the call to action…if you see something, say something. Please think about it compassionately without judgment. Please say it empathetically. But please, say something. Otherwise, it will never become CONSCIOUS and until it is, it will never change.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, I have had subsequent conversation with a (male) friend that I thought was worth sharing:

Me: So…that’s what happened.

Friend: WOW, that is upsetting. He’s not usually like that.

Me: He wasn’t "like anything" – he literally didn’t notice that he was doing it, and nobody else did either.

Friend: What if he’s just shy around women, would that explain it?

Me: Um, no. Because what if I was just shy around men? What would that mean to my career?  I would never be where I am.

Still, invisible.

One year later…I got my second shot

March 17, 2021

This week social media is blowing up with pictures, memories and thoughts about where we were only one year ago…when we really shut down. I say “only one year” – and now, that’s how it feels – 2020 was a blur – somehow the time went by slowly each day – but looking back now, I can’t even remember some of it. I guess you don’t remember each version of groundhogs’ day.

I can’t possibly understand the loss that so many people have had to endure – the grandparents, parents, siblings, friends lost to this crazy disease. Loss of time, loss of job, loss of security, loss of mind…I have read about it, commiserated with friends about it, coached colleagues through it…watched my daughter suffer through trying to learn online, trying to deal with the lack of social events during these important young adult years. I watched as my son continued to go to school, to work, all the while having to listen to me say “wear your mask, wash your hands, leave your shoes in the garage…” and worried my way through it. And, I had my own loss too.

However, yesterday I had my second vaccine. And for the first time in a very long time, I allowed myself to think about the excitement of that which comes next. I’m most excited for the travel – to safely board the plane, get into an Uber and my hotel with minimal fear of cooties. And boy, am I ready to have some fun again! I also allowed myself to think about the things I learned – from a work perspective. So, with that in mind, here are the3 most impactful things I learned about leadership from living and working through a pandemic:

1)   High Potential Talent is always in demand.

Even when the world shuts down, those that are really great at their job will always be sought after. In fact, now more than ever the War For Talent is on. With companies everywhere focused on how they get their people ‘back to the office’ they are realizing that a hybrid option most likely makes the most sense. Saves money in overhead, but even more importantly, opens the recruiting pool to outside of your city, outside of your commuting range to pretty much the entire country. Where are the best people? Go find them anywhere – the world is your limit. So, with that in mind what do you do? The answer is two-fold:

a.    Invest in your best people. Ensure they feel valued, they are growing and learning. If they take the call from the head-hunter it’s already too late. Call me if you are ready to invest in executive coaching for your best people Executive Coaching

b.    Hire the right people in the first place. Make sure they are built for the job. How do you do that? Use Predictive Index. It’s a quick assessment that turns subjective information into data that can be used to predict high performance in the job. I’ve used it inside a company and now I use it with my clients. If you are interested in learning more, find me at Mindwire Group

2)   Energy Oscillates.

I always knew this…some days you wake up with more energy than other days. Some activities provide more energy than others and some require more energy. Some people are energy “sucks” and some give energy. When we are living in a world where every day feels the same – we just have to be more intentional about the energy we do have, and a little less judgmental of ourselves when we just don’t have it to give. We will be talking a lot about the human energy, and the human energy crisis in the first season of our upcoming podcast Middle Finger Situations – which will be coming to wherever you get your podcasts in mid-March. In the meantime, here are some ideas:

a.    Identify when, during the day, your energy is highest. Is it consistent? Do those things that require the most energy then. Save the boring stuff, that doesn’t require much thought, for when your energy is lagging. For me, that’s around 3:30 or 4 pm.

b.    Sometimes we have low energy days, or days when energy is seeping out of us due to anxiety, stress or some other emotion that drains us. Give yourself some grace. Don’t beat yourself up – it’s happening to everyone. Without as much human connection, our brain is struggling. Maybe on those dragging days, reach out to an old friend and reconnect. Experience for real the impact of human connection,

c.    See what you can do to manage your own energy. Eat right, exercise, meditate, get outside for some fresh air and connect with those you love – even if it’s through a mask or on a zoom call. Sounds cliché, but I promise it works.

3)   Find something to measure and watch yourself improve.

I’ve always been someone that works out – and in that workout there are several ways to measure progress – distance, speed, number of reps, size of weights, even improved body fat percentage. Depending upon what our goals are, we can typically find a way to measure where we are against it. Yet, at work many of us have goals that are not quite measurable. And if we can measure them, we don’t do it often enough – and then at the end of the year we try to justify our success against the goals we set for ourselves a full year ago. What if we changed that up? I’m not saying you need to change your whole company’s goal setting process – but instead what if you set small goals for yourself – small milestones that show you that you are learning and growing. Watching yourself get better – even if it’s a tiny bit better each day – is a sure-fire way to reclaim some of your potentially lost energy.

Here’s one last thought…maybe not a leadership lesson, but a truth that I think I always knew but was made clear to me this past weekend. Old friends are like home. I have friends from elementary, middle, and high school, friends from college, friends from each and every one of the jobs I’ve had and every city in which I’ve lived. I’m a collector of people and a good relationship builder. I place a high value on friendship and have never taken my friends for granted.  I consider myself lucky. This past weekend I met up with 5 friends that I’ve known since middle school. We haven’t all kept in touch, but because of social media, we have been able to follow each other and the lives we have lived. What an amazing time we had. Because old friends are like home. They are comfortable, they are familiar and in this particular case, they were awesome. We clicked back into a pattern that was at once easy and fun. All five of us were better versions of ourselves than we were then, and we all appreciated that. The pictures we posted were met with comments and love from so many others that went to school with us as well, all wanting to know when we can do it again.

Some people are very tied to their jobs; not because they love the job, or what they are doing, or what the company or the industry does – but mostly it’s “about the people”. Here’s how I can apply my ‘old friend’ learning to this…most companies have great people – you just need to find them. BUT…when you leave a company, you suddenly have a whole new ‘cadre’ of old friends. Stay connected. It does a heart good.

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