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2+2=5, or Why your Bias Matters

Pop quiz: Can you spot the diversity expert in this photo?

Here’s a hint: he’s the good looking one. The really good looking one.

Okay, so it’s obvious that the diversity expert is the gentleman to my right. Joe Gerstandt is a speaker, blogger, and consultant in the diversity and inclusion space. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and seeing his work. He’s good at what he does, so if you’re looking for someone in this arena, please check him out.

Now the reason I’m poking fun is that I’m sure some may have thought that I was the diversity expert. Don’t laugh; I’ve been approached by several well meaning people in the past who’ve thought that I was a subject matter expert in this area. I wonder why? Perhaps the person’s thinking went something along the lines of this pseudo-mathematical equation:

HR practitioner + effective communication skills + brown skin + dreadlocks  = diversity thought leader

And while I certainly have opinions on the topics of race, diversity, and inclusion, they are just that–opinions. Those that work in the D&I arena are (for the most part) very good at what they do, so while I’m flattered, I always politely decline offers. Joe and others like him don’t need me giving their profession a bad name.

We all make assumptions. I’ll share one of my own, which involves a job candidate I was working with. I was vetting this person over the phone and we spoke for a long time. We had a great conversation and I was wrapping things up by going over the company’s benefits package. I was reviewing health care coverage, focusing on specific items for women. At that point the candidate interrupted me and, barely suppressing their laughter, made it clear to me that they wouldn’t need them–as they were a man, not a woman.  

Oops.

The candidate’s voice and name led me to the wrong conclusions about this person. In this case my gaffe didn’t harm anyone. We laughed it off and moved on. Like I mentioned before, we all make assumptions. And while the examples I highlighted were more comedic than tragic, it’s important that we keep this thought front and center in our minds as we move through the world. As leaders, we should remain especially diligent, as our assumptions can have repercussions beyond mere embarrassment. Not to overstate what should be obvious, but your conscious and unconscious biases must stay out of your employment decisions. 

Just like 2+2 doesn’t equal 5, make sure that your business processes and decision-making mechanisms add up correctly. It’ll save you and your organization some embarrassment, and potentially worse things.

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