There is a lot of talk these days within the business community about conscious and unconscious bias, but what does it all mean?
To understand the concept we must first look at the conscious and unconscious mind. The conscious mind is logical and rational and reacts to different situations in life while the unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thought urges and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness.
Freud, compares the mind to a large iceberg where the conscious mind consisting of all the mental processes of which we are aware, is seen as the tip of the iceberg while the vast “unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgements, feelings or behaviour” (Wilson, 2002). Our feelings, motives and decisions are actually powerfully influenced by our past experiences and are stored in the unconscious.
Bias is defined as a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.
There are a number of differences between the Conscious and the Unconscious bias. Conscious bias is to be aware, intentional and responsive. Significant improvements have been made in identifying and addressing conscious bias in the workplace with laws and policies now in place to prevent explicit prejudices based on race, age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation and many other characteristics.
Unconscious bias on the other hand, refers to being unaware or performing something without realising, this makes it much more difficult to identify. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organise social worlds by categorising. Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values.
Let’s take some examples of where unconscious bias could take place in the workforce.
The interview situation. The Interviewer meets his first candidate Mary, he instantly likes her, she reminds him of his friend, instinctively he feels she would be a great fit with the Department. However Mary is extremely nervous and is stumbling over the questions, the interviewer tells Mary to relax, take her time and asks her about her hobbies, Mary mentions she was a national competitive swimmer (interviewer’s best friend was a national competitive swimmer who he greatly admires) Mary shines when talking about swimming, he then asks the first questions again and Mary answers them well, the interview goes extremely well. The next candidate, Susan, is also extremely nervous and is stumbling over questions the interviewer doesn’t have the same connection with this candidate and without realising it he does not take the time to tell Susan to relax, she continues to be extremely nervous throughout the interview and it doesn’t go well.
The Interviewer without even realising it was unconsciously bias towards Mary.
Selecting CVs for Interview. You have whittled down the CVs to all those candidates who have similar qualifications and experience but you need to whittle them down some more. You exclude a further 5. Why? was it because unconsciously you thought one candidate is a bit older than the current workforce? or maybe one candidate came from an unsavoury part of town? A Chicago study carried out an experiment, there were 2 parts to this study, in the first part of this study all the CVs were identical, only the names of the candidates were different (African American names like Jamal or very White sounding names like Brendan). CVs with White names got 50% more call-backs than those with African American names. The second part of the experiment measured the effect of the quality of the CVs (including more observable skills and credentials) would have on the rate of call-backs for each race. For Whites, the higher quality CVs received 30 percent more call-backs. There was no significant difference in call-backs for African Americans. In other words, African Americans benefitted little or not at all from improving the quality of their CV’s and credentials.
A company are changing the IT system which will affect every department. It was decided to put a Team together consisting of a member of staff from each department to manage the changeover. The Team Leader selects younger members of staff from each department, she unconsciously assumes that the younger staff members will be more computer literate, however Tim in sales, who is 50+ and has been with the company over 15 years, is very tech savvy. The Team Leader has missed out on a member of staff who could have contributed hugely to the project combining his computer skills with his knowledge of the company and their system.
While we may not be aware of our prejudices or maybe don’t want to admit to them they can have damaging consequences for Organisations. Unconscious bias can erode the benefits of having Diversity in the workplace (people of different race, gender, age, social class, sexuality etc.). To address unconscious biases in the workplace companies must first increase awareness and existence of it.
We should try recognise and identify our own Biases. Some practical steps to reduce bias in the workplace would be to ensure the wording of your job advertisements do not favour one group of people or another. When reading CVs, read several side-by-side rather than one at a time, focusing on the performance and skills mentioned than on issues such as gender etc. Companies should focus on their people, it is important that companies establish expectations, communicate plans and give and receive feedback to everyone in their team by setting SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound). These Smart objectives should be consistent and fair across the Team focusing on individual’s strengths and successes rather than faults and weaknesses while discussing performance. Human Resource Departments could introduce an avenue or an environment for an individual to express in an open, non-judgemental arena their experience of unconscious bias.
One way to reveal your own unconscious bias is by taking the Implicit Association Test created by researchers from Harvard, Virginia and Washington universities. This measures the strength of links you make between concepts, for example, race or sexuality and evaluation of stereotypes, such as whether those concepts are good or bad.
So for the month of April lets unleash our self-awareness… and educate ourselves about our conscious and unconscious bias.
I remember my grandmother saying to me once when she was 70 “I know on the outside you see an old woman but on the inside, I’m still 27”. I never really understood what she meant by that statement until I turned 50 …… because I still feel the same energy, enthusiasm and passion for life that I did when I was 27. Sure the hair may be a lot greyer but I would like to think I am a bit wiser and have acquired some knowledge and experience that might be worth sharing.
Whether you are male, female, gender fluid, LGBTQ, straight, black, white, Asian, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or no religion, one reality that we all share is that we are all going to get old. Ageism is a prejudice against older people because they are old, and while thankfully other prejudices against a person because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation are confronted, ageism seems to slide under the radar.
Perhaps we all make little comments about our older colleagues or relations without thinking of the effect those comments may have on the receiver: old fogies, bed blockers, grannies, old dears, ‘the elderly’, ‘their past it’ ‘at your age’. These prejudices can become part of our everyday norms and can slip into the workplace environment.
Even though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate based on how old you are, getting hired can be a challenge when you’re considered an “older” worker. However, you don’t need to have grey hair to be consider too old to get hired. Believe it or not, job seekers are reporting age discrimination beginning as early as the mid-thirties, I bet that has grabbed your attention. By the time you reach your forties, you can be considered washed up in some industries.
42% of employers believe there’s ‘an upper age limit for customer-facing roles’
87% of those unemployed aged 55 or over believe their age has been a factor in their not getting work.
3. 65% of employees over 55 would like/believe they need to work past the age of 66.
The average lifespan in Ireland has increased by nearly 25 years since the 1920s, but our attitude to getting older hasn’t moved with the time. It is time we need to start talking about a second middle age that stretches from about 60 to 75. Some researchers in the UK have even suggested that 70 is the new 50, based on the belief that age should be calculated not on one’s actual age, but on how long people are expected to live after retirement. By that reckoning, you reach
As a society we need to change our perception of “old age” and instead of looking at the age of a person concentrate on the person and the qualities, experience and skills they bring to a position.
While ageism applies to the old, age bands can so often be used to tar an age grouping with a set of behaviours. I genuinely find it hard to stomach the labels some commentators make about millennials as not hard working, unable to take disappointment and having a sense of entitlement. I can tell you the millennials that I meet in my work are passionate, hardworking, ethical and long to make an impact on the world. They inspire me.
When we meet older people for the first time we may make subconscious judgements about their ability to be flexible, to change and adapt, to embrace new technology, to work in a stressful environment, all of this without getting to know or understand the person behind the number. Think of the potential opportunities we have in life where these assumptions may prevent us from working with the most incredible people in the most effective way.
There are many, many amazing success stories to be found about over 50’s who have been super successful and Nidhi Shah has uncovered some of these examples in her this blog http://arkenea.com/blog/entrepreneurs-above-50/
No matter what age a person is, it really is their attitude that counts, not a number on their birth cert. My grandmother had an incredible attitude and a determination that drove her all her life. She was an extraordinary woman who brought up her siblings with her older brother after both her parents passed away …. she was 17 at the time. After contracting TB of the spine when in her 70’s, she was hospitalised and had to lie on the flat of her back for two years. She was only a week out of the hospital when she fell down the stairs and broke her hips. She was told she would never walk again … but she did …. and taught herself to walk unaided. She remarried at the age of 75 her second husband, whose name was Maurice was 80……. Never say never.
I will leave the last word (or song) to the incredible Evelyn Williams the
Let’s stop using age as a determining factor ……. Let’s get to know each other as individuals and what each of us can contribute in a unique way to our organisation no matter what age we are.
Leadership and Mental Wellness
As a psychotherapist, I have always had a passionate interest in mental health and its positive and negative impact on my clients’ personal and professional lives.
My experience in the field has taught me that mental health issues are indiscriminate and can become a serious challenge for any person, irrespective of their status, race, gender and orientation. Mind (the UK Mental Health charity) provides some interesting statistics: one in six employees will have to deal with anxiety, depression or stress in any one year. Mental health studies in the UK have also shown that 50% of all long-term sickness relates to mental health and a Warwick University study found that people are 12% more productive when they are happy and not suffering from mental health issues.
So for the overall health of your organisation, it makes good business sense to explore this issue. So often, policies and procedures take precedence over basic but critical leadership behaviours that are essential in creating an environment where mental health issues may be aired and addressed properly.
In my view as a professional coach, it is not about training managers in psychology or therapy, but about requiring of them to properly engage in a meaningful way with their teams. The role of the manager is to support their team, to provide them with the professional support they may need and to encourage them to engage with the company’s EAP programme if they are experiencing mental health issues. If this is ignored or even addressed too late, the inevitable result is absenteeism. People come into work struggling with these conditions, but the trigger point for action should not be at the point of absence, but rather at the point of the onset of a mental health issue.
Some very simple practices can make a significant difference to how mental health is regarded in the workplace:
The key to success is getting everyone in the business to own this as an issue. It is critical that employees do not feel afraid to discuss or admit to having issues. Having senior people as advocates and promoting early intervention are both critical to making a real and lasting difference. I believe that without this level of buy-in from senior management nothing will change. ‘Behaviour breeds behaviour’ – if senior managers are unwilling to advocate managing mental health, we can hardly expect our team leaders to carry the flag. As a business community, we need to bring the issue of mental health out of the closet. Most mental health issues are responsive to proper medical and psychological interventions. Effective treatments are readily available and the quicker they are sought, the quicker the individual can start to heal. This makes obvious business sense where our highly-trained staff are one of our greatest business assets. The chances are we are not all Wonder Women or Supermen, and it can be challenging to operate at peak performance throughout a forty year career. Life can sometimes throw a curveball at us that can trigger a mental health issue: the death of a child or partner, the ending of a relationship, exposure to prolonged unhealthy stress, bullying, losing your job. No matter how strong we may think we are, we are not immune to emotional trauma.
For me personally, my mental health challenges came as a result of losing my job due to a company restructure. I felt lost, past my ‘sell-by’ date and exceptionally vulnerable. I remember talking about my situation to my friend and former colleague Dermot Maguire who is the general manager of HR for VHI healthcare. I told him that I had just been made redundant. His reply was quite simple – “you have not been made redundant, your job has been made redundant”. I cannot tell you the positive impact that this simple reframing comment had on my confidence levels. Talking to people within my business network whom I trusted was invaluable in getting me over the hump and I am forever grateful for the support that I received at the lowest point in my career. Since then, I have never looked back. I started my own company and have worked for amazing brands such as Airbnb, Survey Monkey, Voxpro, Nest, Paypal, Nestpick and Slack, travelling all over the world while training their staff.
Professor Ghaemi, an eminent professor of psychiatry, offers us an interesting observation on how prevalent mental health issues are today. He tells us that it is time to dispel the myths of the past and stop stigmatising something that affects one in four people at some point in their lives. Many successful and admirable leaders like Lincoln, Churchill and King all had challenges in relation to mental health issues.According to letters written by his friends, Lincoln was “the most depressed person they had ever seen”. Churchill spoke about his depression and went through a particularly severe period in the years before the First World War. He once said “for two or three years, the light faded from the picture. I did my work. I sat in the House of Commons but a black depression settled on me”. Martin Luther King Jr. suffered several bouts of severe depression and shortly before he was assassinated his team tried to get him psychiatric treatment which he turned down.
As leaders in business, managing our own mental wellbeing and supporting those we lead makes total business and common sense. Yet it is still not common practice. Here are some ideas on mental health to help start the conversations – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-mental-health.
It is time to start this important conversation now. For the month of October let us Unleash the Power of Openness and get talking regarding mental health in our organisations.
Founder and Managing Director
Authentic Leadership, Just Another Buzz Word?
I remember attending a conference in the UK on Leadership and being very impressed by their keynote speaker. He spoke about all the values that I aspire to in my own life; respect, courage, valuing difference, being vulnerable and hard working. An exceptionally powerful speaker, who had the audience in the palm of his hand for the full session, he received a standing ovation from the 500 people in the audience.
I was staying in the hotel that night and the following morning, when I went down for breakfast, who was at the table but the keynote speaker reading the newspaper. I decided that I would go over to him and complement him on his talk after he had finished his breakfast. A young waitress tending his table brought him some toast. The toast had only been put on the table when he let out a roar and said “I didn’t ask for white toast, I asked for brown, it can’t be that hard to get it right”. The young girl apologised and quickly scurried to the kitchen to rectify her mistake. She returned within a few minutes with hot brown toast only to be told that his coffee was now cold and that he wanted a fresh pot. For me, it was like watching the curtain blow back to reveal the true Wizard of Oz – my illusion was shattered.
Being an authentic leader is the new ‘buzz’ word around organisations these days. I have observed some important business leaders proclaim themselves as true authentic leaders. I no longer tend to be impressed by such titles and subjective expressions of self-worth but rather wait and observe their behaviour before passing judgement.
For me, authentic leadership is not a self-proclaimed title that one can bestow upon oneself. It is that “secret sauce” that makes you stand out from the pack. It is like precious gold which is rare to find but once you do you will easily recognise it.
In a recent article, Bill George discussed ‘The Truth About Authentic Leaders’. Here are some of his recommended steps people should undertake to develop a deeper understanding of themselves in order to become authentic leaders:
- Explore their life stories and their crucibles in order to understand who they are. As leaders explore their life stories and process their experiences, they develop a deeper understanding of themselves and feel increasingly comfortable being authentic. This is a lifelong journey in which we are always discovering the next layer, much like peeling an onion.
- Engage in reflection and introspective practices by taking time everyday to step back from the 24/7 world, turn off all electronics and reflect on what is most important. The key here is to set aside preoccupation with task lists, iphones and the latest news in order to reflect privately. In this way, the urgent does not take precedence over the important in one’s life and leaders examine how they are living their lives and engaging with the world around them.
- Seeking honest feedback from colleagues, friends and the direct reports about themselves and their leadership. One of the hardest things for leaders to do is to understand how other people see them, which is often quite different to how they want to be seen. To gain greater understanding of how they are coming across, authentic leaders obtain real-time feedback by listening to their ‘truth tellers’ who give them candid critiques of their leadership.
- Understand their leadership purpose so they can align people around a common purpose. Purpose defines the unique gifts people bring to leadership challenges, through which they can align others with their purposes in order to create a positive impact.
- Become skilled at tailoring their style to their audiences, imperatives of the situation and readiness of their teammates to accept different approaches. There are times when leaders have to make difficult decisions that are sure to displease people, and they’ll need to give tough feedback. At other times they need to be inspiring, good coaches and consensus builders. These flexible styles are not inauthentic if they come from a genuinely authentic place.
Bill George’s advice really resonates with me and my personal experience of dealing with some leaders. If I am to inspire people, I need to learn to work on myself first and focus on being authentic in the way Bill George describes. Long ago, I stopped being wowed by ‘organisations values’ as many are meaningless unless we understand the behaviours that are behind them. Don’t tell me that you put your employees first but rather let me witness it for myself in the actions and interactions that I see when I visit your office or talk to your teams.
As it used to say on my report card from school ‘Maurice is doing well, but could do better’, I guess the same could be said about my journey to become more authentic … I feel I am doing well but I know I can do better!
For the month of September let us Unleash our authentic selves (as described by Bill George) into our organisation and release some of that secret sauce!
Goal Setting For The New Year And Keeping The Momentum Going
Now that Christmas is over and the last of the turkey sandwiches have been devoured its about this time we start to look forward to the new year and 2018. We reflect on the past, the ups, downs and success and look forward to the year ahead. It is also a time to pause and set out our goals, both personally and professionally. Some years ago I did a pilot show ‘Health Kicks’ where I talked about goal setting and how to keep the momentum going once you have set the goals. Although my hair is a lot greyer now (lol), the hints and tips made on the link below are still valid today. So I decided to share the link with you as I believe it will give you a great start to your new year.
A Wise Sage Talks About Feedback.
Many years ago, as a newly appointed manager, I had the opportunity to have a one to one dinner with our CEO. He was a very wise leader who was coming towards the end of his career and had seen it all. During dinner he asked me what I thought was one of the most important things for a CEO. I was a little shell shocked by the question. I think I went on about the importance of strategy in modern business.
He listened and smiled and after I finished he said “that is an interesting perspective, and it is important but what I have found over the years is that getting ‘feedback’ is like gold dust”.The higher up the ladder you go, the harder it is to find. Honest feedback is critical if you are to run your business successfully and to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s really going on for your customers and your team members. As you go up the corporate structure, people may filter, manipulate or even keep information from you. It’s no good driving your company over a cliff to hear a chorus of the passengers from the rear of the bus shouting before you hit the ground, “we saw the cliff coming but we did not want to upset you or we tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen”.
It’s a conversation I still remember 25 years on and his insight has served me well. Timely, regular feedback is really critical in my opinion for effective leadership. I don’t just mean the once a year company survey that we all have experienced or the 360 degree feedback that we might engage in from time to time although they are important and have their place as they can give great insight at a snapshot in time. I am talking about creating a high performing environment where feedback is the norm. What I am suggesting is actively seeking feedback after every interaction by asking three simple questions;
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- How could I/we make the interaction better the next time?
I use these questions after every interaction, meeting or coaching session I am involved in and it is amazing what I have learned by just asking these questions. I always ask the questions in this particular order because in a multicultural environment some people may not feel comfortable telling you what you didn’t do well but they are more inclined to tell you what could be better.
Ah … Meetings
Ask any leader what a key challenge is for them in their day to day business life and they will likely say they are time poor and typically we spend a significant amount of time in meetings. So doesn’t it make sense then to make sure that, as an organisation, we ensure we make our meetings as effective and efficient as possible.
A lot of what I am going to bring to your awareness in the next few lines is what you already know. It’s common sense but all too often it’s not common practice. So, here is a quick reminder of some basic principles:
- Meetings cost money! Gathering a group of leaders in a room can be a very expensive exercise especially if no positive action oriented results or decisions occur. A crude calculation of the combined hourly rate of everyone’s salary written up on a flip chart certainly gets the mind focused.
- It may sound bas)ic but having a chair, a time keeper and a minutes taker is key to having a successful meeting. The role of the chair is critical. I see him as the guardian of Rackham’s Communication Model watching for high levels of shutting out and making sure that people have an opportunity to contribute.
- Here are some ideas to help ensure everyone has a chance to contribute (we talked about these on the programme); The Talking Wall, Three Minute Soap Box, Working in Pairs
- In general, I would suggest that minutes of a meeting don’t have to be very detailed but they do need to be action focused. At the end of each meeting there needs to be a list of actions, with owners and agreed timelines for completion.
Try the 4 suggestions above… others have and have not only saved time but have given feedback that their meetings have become more effective.
The best of luck!!
Vision, Values and Behaviours
You would be hard pressed to find a company that does not have a vision of what they are about, its basic, right? The company vision sets a marker down and points the direction that we want people to follow.
Values are another basic element that we find in our companies. Our values set out the principles that we work with. You will find values like simplicity, customer focused, passionate about our people appearing in one form or another within a company’s value set.
But here’s the interesting thing … gather any group of leaders together and ask them about the values of the company and see how you get on. You may be surprised with the response you get. Some leaders will really struggle to name them all or even a few and if they struggle to name them… how can they be consciously living them?
Now let’s dig a little deeper into values. How many of us have defined the behaviours that we expect to see in our companies that will demonstrate that the values are alive and breathing in our DNA? For example, let’s take the value ‘Ignite Your Entrepreneurial Spirit’, it’s a fantastic value but unless we define the behaviours that demonstrate what we expect to see it can just be a set of words on a page. When we take the extra step and define the behaviours (as one of my clients has done) and articulate what we expect people to do i.e. be innovative, take risks and inspire others, now people know what’s expected of them.
If we are really serious about our company values we need to be able to define the behaviours we expect to see from people to demonstrate they are living the values.
We need to talk about them, values and behaviours need to appear in our recruitment processes, our performance conversations and our coaching.
Sometimes as Leaders we can fall into the trap, when asked by one of our team for advice, of automatically giving them the answer. This may be a sign of a Leader or an expert, but how effective is this approach in developing leaders behind you? You will never hear me say ‘don’t give advice’, that’s your judgement call, (and I am assuming that the team member has the competencies and technical training to do the job), but too often I have seen well meaning Leaders creating a dependency culture within the team because they have positioned themselves as the “fount of all knowledge”. In the end they paid a high price. Team members became stuck because they were not developing and many chose to move on. The Leaders themselves became overworked and stressed because the new team members were pulling out of them and the cycle continued.
There is a way of constructing a question that empowers others to overcome obstacles and find their own solutions to the problem. Recognise that the brain that has the problem nearly always has the solution.
An empowering question begins simply with ‘If you knew that’, then you insert the positive opposite of whatever the limiting assumption is and you end the question with an action for example, ‘If you knew that you could increase sales by 40% what would be the first step you would take?’ Simply telling someone they can increase sales by 40% is unlikely to unlock their belief in their ability to do so. However asking them a question that allows them to think of the possibilities as if they were true frees the mind from panic and allows new outcomes to emerge.
It sounds to simple right?……but it really works. Ask the thousands of Leaders who have come on the Personal Leadership Programme and have looked at me as if I had two heads!!!! …… then went and tried it themselves and have been blown away by the results.
An important consequence of asking an empowering question is, that as a Leader, you do not end up with the responsibility for the outcome of the action.
Let’s say you give advice to a team member or colleague on how to tackle an issue, if it doesn’t work out who do they blame? You!! On a subconscious level they do not take responsibility.
So Unleash Empowering Questions in your organisations and watch how many of your team can actually figure things out themselves.
The best of luck!!
Power of Appreciation.
When we are feeling good about ourselves, our performance improves. We achieve more because we are more motivated to try new things. When we are feeling positive, our doubts fade and our confidence grows dramatically. If we want our teams to perform at their creative best, then it is crucial that we demonstrate to them how much their contribution counts to us and how much we value that contribution.
The best way to demonstrate this is to simply tell them. Peter Drucker describes it as “catching people doing the right things and telling them about it“. Often we have a tendency to point out where people are going wrong rather than telling them all the wonderful things that they are doing right. We need to reverse this destructive habit and refocus on the positive aspects of our team’s performance. We need to verbalize it.
Showing appreciation is critical in keeping teams motivated. The key element in showing such appreciation is to be specific. I have noticed in some organisations the word ‘awesome’ is frequently used for general praise. It is far more motivating to tell our team members EXACTLY what it is about that individual or their piece of work that is ‘awesome’. Appreciation that is not specific lacks impact, as it remains to a large degree impersonal. When we are specific and personal in our appreciation, the impact can be incredible. The individual feels valued and motivated and there are good bottom-line business reasons for doing this.
Imagine if every single member of your team felt appreciated by you and by his or her colleagues. Think of how powerful that would be, how motivated the team would be, how hard it would be for the competition to keep up, how much more sales could be achieved.
So for the month of July, let’s focus on ‘catching people doing the right things and showing specific appreciation’.
Unleash your Power of Appreciation in your company and see what happens
The best of luck!!