The topics of cultural awareness and inclusion are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model. Basically, this involves skill in integrating diversity and inclusion principles in talent development strategies and initiatives.
I had a recent wake up call on this topic because I had just finished a leadership course but failed to create enough discussion on the social unrest that occurred in the summer of 2020. I received a comment to that effect on a feedback report.
Since then, I have gone back and modified my course in several ways to elevate the topics of equity and inclusion. Here are six of the points I have added.
Point 1 – Diversity is an Asset
When you have a mixture of cultures and differing opinions, the team can come up with more creative solutions to problems. The ability to see issues from different angles enhances the quality of dialog as long as all individuals show respect and trust for each other.
At work, I made it a point to promote people so that my team was highly diverse. Of the (roughly 40) supervisors and managers reporting to me, they were 1) more women than men, 2) roughly 30% racially different from me 3) of different age groups and with diverse cultural upbringings. I always enjoyed the diversity of my teams because we were able to see things from different angles. We listened to each other and avoided a monoculture in my area.
In nature, a monoculture is a weakened state. If you plant the same crop on a plot of land year after year, it will become susceptible to disease and produce lower yields.
Point 2 – Silence is being Complicit
Discussions that include individual differences can become uncomfortable, so many leaders tend to avoid them. That is a mistake. If you try to ignore the topics of equity and inclusion, you actually become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Dialog is essential because it leads to higher levels of awareness. The most dangerous part of bias is unconscious bias, so it is essential to discuss differences, and be receptive when others point out how you are showing bias.
Point 3 – There is no Fence Anymore
You must take a stand and declare your posture on fairness and equity. It is not possible to sit on the fence and let others argue the fine points of racial injustice, or any other form of prejudice.
Point 4 – Do not say “I Understand”
There is no way that a person from a privileged class can understand what it is like to be from a disadvantaged group. The person from a disadvantaged segment will have endured far more pain and feelings of inadequacy every day of his or her life than you can possibly imagine. Recognize the emotional load that others carry, but do not patronize by saying “I understand.” You don’t.
Point 5 – Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Many of the discussions on equity and inclusion will be challenging and difficult. Both sides of any issue will make false steps along the journey to understanding.
Recognize and factor in the difficulty of the challenge.
Point 6 – Don’t Hire with the Idea of Getting Someone to “Fit In.”
It is a mistake to bring in people who are just like the rest of us. Always seek to hire people with differing points of view and backgrounds. Note: that does not mean you should seek to hire people who will be disruptive or abrasive. Rather seek to diversify the points of view for various people on the team.
These are just six points out of thousands that could be discussed, but they do demonstrate that I am trying to address the issue of cultural awareness, equality, and inclusion more consciously in my leadership work.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.
The social upheaval in 2020 triggered by the murder of George Floyd, and amplified by many other tragic situations, has changed the way we approach racial injustice as a society.
While some progress has been made over the decades, it is clear that more progress is urgently needed. As an older white male, I realize that I am caught in my own world view.
I am becoming more aware that many marginalized groups have a vastly different set of experiences about the impact of prejudice. I am seeking to learn more.
As a longtime student of body language, I have concluded that our gestures and other body language do reveal hidden feelings of prejudice.
When teaching body language, I stress that cultural differences are really important when interpreting signals from another person. You cannot assume you are interpreting a signal from someone of another culture is what you are used to in yours.
There is a wonderful resource book on this topic entitled “Kiss. Bow, or Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison, Wayne Conaway, and George Borden. My copy is a few decades old, but they have been issuing new editions; the most recent version was written in 2015.
It is important to keep things up to date, because customs tend to change with time. The book is a great way to read up on the culture of another part of the world when you travel internationally.
Even within a particular nation there can be large differences in body language signals depending on the differences that occur between groups of people.
For example, I am sure there are numerous issues where body language signals are different from one race to another. I have not found a lot of studies on this aspect, although there was a documented study at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 relative to doctors being less empathetic with their body language when treating terminally ill black patients versus white patients.
The majority of the physicians were white men, so the team could not make any statistically significant conclusions about whether the physician’s race impacted his or her actions.
In a Tufts University study reported in Science Daily, “Subtle patterns of nonverbal behavior that appear on popular television programs influence racial bias among viewers. Black characters elicit especially negative nonverbal responses, such as facial expressions and body language, from other characters, and viewers exhibit more racial bias after exposure to such negative responses.”
The study found that characters on the shows exhibited more negative nonverbal behavior toward black characters than to white characters of the same status.
I also found an interesting study indicating “Some evidence for the nonverbal contagion of racial bias.” The study was done in 2015 by Willard (Harvard), Isaac (Princeton), and Carney (UC Berkeley). “Four experiments provide evidence for the hypothesis that we can ‘‘catch’’ racial bias from others by merely observing subtle nonverbal cues.”
The implications of this study are that it is likely we unconsciously pass on judgmental feelings about another group of people by our nonverbal behaviors.
I found several examples of specific scripted studies such as the ones above, but I have not found a meta-analysis or extensive controlled experiment reported in the literature.
I have a growing interest in the subject of the links between bias and body language. If anyone knows of a book, additional academic study, or video on this specific topic, let me know.
I find myself reading more on this topic and trying to learn how to become an “antiracist.”
I am currently reading the book “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram Kendi on this topic. He is a New York Times bestselling author and is Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.
He makes the point that “racism is steeped in denial.” He also points out that when a person says “I am not a racist,” it is an indication that the person likely is a racist.
Before this summer, I was not thinking about these issues as much as I should have. I thought of myself as unbiased and have volunteered in dozens of ways to help try to level the playing field, particularly for black folks in our community.
I now see my actions in a different light and feel that by not being more proactive in pursuing inclusive excellence, I was likely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
I am attempting to remedy this situation by redoubling my efforts to become more educated about the issues and more active in fighting all forms of bias by reading and attending numerous programs on the topic.
It is an interesting area, because if you have unconscious biases, you are not aware of them, by definition. I think it is wise to explore in what ways you can become more aware of any unconscious biases you have.
We need to recognize that everyone is biased.
Discussions of this topic are challenging, because it is easy to offend a person who is different from you. Well-intended conversations can quickly become a minefield of potential problems.
Someone said that in order to make progress, we need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. There are many things we need to “unlearn” and learn in a different way.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
The one thing you really can control in life is your attitude, yet most people view their attitude as the result of external things happening to them rather than a conscious decision.
In this article, I would like to explore some ideas that can help make your choice more intentional.
These ideas are not new or unique; they have been expressed by numerous authors or scientists over centuries, and yet they are easily forgotten by anyone in the heat of the moment.
Several philosophers have expressed the same ideal, “what determines the quality of your life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens to you.”
As we were forced to change our way of life in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had a classic example of how external conditions beyond our control can force us to do things that are uncomfortable and challenging.
Many people became depressed and withdrawn during the shutdown of much of our society: some resorted to suicide. Some people found joy and opportunity by focusing on the one thing they really could control: their mind.
If you choose to change conditions for the better, get some material on mental imaging and start changing your life. The more depressed you are, the more you have to gain.
Most of the time you cannot change the conditions being presented to you by the world, but most of the time you can control your attitude or reactions so that your state of mind is much more enjoyable.
This philosophy is not that profound, and we have all heard some form of it numerous times before. Some people call it “mind over matter.” Norman Vincent Peale called it “The Power of Positive Thinking,” while Earl Nightingale made the observation that “We become what we think about.”
One helpful book is the classic, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (1960). Maltz became fascinated with the process of setting goals for his plastic surgery patients. He learned that the power of self-affirmation and mental visualization techniques were enabled by the connection between the mind and the body.
Maltz taught how developing a positive inner vision was a means of developing a positive outer vision. This led to the idea that a person’s outer success almost never rises above the one visualized internally.
Many other philosophers such as Zig Zigler, Tony Robbins, Earl Nightingale, and Brian Tracy have based much of their work on the theories developed by Maltz.
Unfortunately, when we are miserable, it is hard to remember that we can be in control if we want to assume that control. When you get depressed, try the visualization techniques and set a positive goal. They can make a big difference in your life. Paradise is not as far away as it seems.
There is a wonderful TedTalk on this topic by Colin O’Brady. His legs were severely burned in an accident, and the doctors said he would never walk again. But with grit, determination, and the help of his exceptional mother, he went on to become a triathlon champion and set two world records for completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam (climbing the highest mountain on the seven continents in record time).
There are stories of POWs who have achieved a state of joy and gratitude for life even as they were being starved and tortured. One such individual was Viktor Frankel during WWII in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Viktor was a psychologist in Vienna living a comfortable life when he was nabbed by the Nazis and brought to the camp. He was treated with disdain and was starved and beaten, like most POWs.
He was curious about why some people survived, while most others quickly died. He described the survival instinct as the realization that there was something significant to live for, or something yet to do in their life. Once they were reminded of their purpose for living, they were empowered to endure their hopeless situation and survive.
In Viktor’s own situation, he was able to use the power of visualization to rise above the incredible conditions of the moment and feel peace and joy, even among the dying and hopeless people. After the war, he wrote a book on his observations entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
What prison do you live in? Does it sometimes feel like you are suffering needlessly at work or at home? Are the managers in your organization kind of reminiscent of prison guards, or at least schoolyard bullies?
Do you feel there is little hope to be happy or content with the conditions that exist around you? If that describes you, then realize you are making a choice. You are choosing to not live in paradise when the opportunity is there for you to do so, or at least to improve your frame of mind significantly.
The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.