Dismantling unconscious prejudices and appreciating diversity in the company
Tips for dealing with unconscious bias - Interview with Vanessah Aurore Reck
The tricky thing about unconscious bias is our failure to acknowledge that it is part of human nature to apply stereotypes in our thought processes. We all have stereotypical expectations, as well as prejudices. The more we acknowledge that, the more we can reflect on it and the better we can handle it. That is why we invited Vanessah Aurore Reck for International Diversity Day. She is offering an impulse session on unconscious bias to our employees. I met with her in advance to discuss these topics, as well as diversity and inclusion in general.
Vanessah Aurore Reck teaches intercultural management at Saarland University in Saarbrücken. She is currently writing her PhD thesis on integration. She has a thematic and personal connection to the topic.
Vanessah grew up in Madagascar. She moved to Germany at the age of 12, and continued her studies there. After graduating from high school, she studied intercultural communication, Spanish and law in Saarbrücken. She explains that this sparked her passion for intercultural issues.
Working on her PhD thesis, she is examining which factors contribute to successful integration.
Hello Vanessah! Thank you for taking the time. I will start with my first question: What does diversity and inclusion mean for a company? What benefits does active D&I management bring?
That depends on the corporate culture. Is it still necessary to use diversity as a selling point to attract good applicants? Or has it already become standard practice? In fact, maybe diversity no longer is the actual topic, but rather the corporate culture itself? Having a culture in which all employees thrive regardless of their backgrounds and such?
I’m under the impression that these topics have not yet been discussed in such breadth in Germany, as has been the case in the USA or other English-speaking countries. Thus, companies in Germany should ask themselves what role diversity plays in their own corporate culture and the company’s identity. For example, diversity might be of greater significance for companies with global operations where communication is key. However, no company should have to put diversity and inclusion on the agenda – at least not beyond the legal requirements. A far more interesting question for a company might be: How can diversity help an organisation achieve its goals?
You are going to talk about the issue of unconscious bias. How would you define that term?
The term is originally rooted in psychology. However, I tend to focus on the cultural science component, and the reasons for its significance in an intercultural working environment. We have to remember that a bias is typically based on stereotypes and prejudices. In most cases, it is an attitude that we are not aware of, but this unconscious perception can lead to conscious discrimination.
This transition from unconscious to conscious is what creates issues. That is when you arrive at an extreme attitude, such as racism. It is important to differentiate these terms clearly.
At what point is it important for a company to deal with this topic?
It becomes crucial when a global corporation like Google strives to attract the crème de la crème of employees. Clearly, this crème de la crème is not just composed of white 50-year-old men. It is very diverse. It goes without saying that the company must create a suitable working environment if it wants to acquire such top talents. Taking this further, evaluating this issue is equally beneficial to companies seeking to attract outstanding candidates in other contexts.
The key is to reflect on one’s own unconscious bias – both on an organisational and on a personal level. Thus, awareness needs to be created.
Can you offer practical tips for dealing with unconscious bias?
The standards proposed by the scientific community sometimes appear engineered. Tools like intercultural training or workshops might be of interest. However, this typical form of training has also garnered criticism, as there is concern that they also encourage the reproduction of stereotypes. Nevertheless, such training is a good starting point for creating awareness for the topic, to make people appreciate its importance and spark an interest.
Also, there is more specialized training on unconscious bias that is based on psychological tenets and is therefore empirical in nature. However, that necessitates access to tools for understanding these empirical findings and transforming them into specific actions.
The Harvard Implicit Association Test takes yet another approach. It basically measures how unconsciously biased an individual is.
Personally, I believe it is important to strengthen the communication relating to this topic within the company; to create a shared culture with all employees that also offers safe spaces. This establishes a point of contact for victims of discrimination while also providing a platform for other employees to express their insecurities.
What specific actions would you say managers can employ to minimise bias within their teams?
Participation and communication. Examining and analysing internal processes from a new perspective while involving the affected minority groups.
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