2020 exposed many existing racial inequalities and biases across the world. Generational inequality does not vanish with unspoken good intentions: it requires time, hard work, and introspection. Inclusivity opens the door, in order to allow diversity a seat at the table and unlock new perspectives, ideas, and friends. Your world will become richer and broader as you become comfortable with the uncomfortable through active listening, diversifying your media, being cautious of social media, and increasing your emotional intelligence.
Spoiler alert – diversity starts with you.
In 2020, I spent time examining my biases. To my alarm, I have internalized negativity by absorbing cultural influences. With the help of my colleague Marzia Taleb and friends around me, I researched how remove my blinders. Some of what I found could be helpful – so here are 5 things that are helping me grow in embracing diversity.
1. Confront your discomfort
When talking to people with different lived experiences, you may be surprised at what you learn. Many minorities’ experiences and common situations have not been believed by others or publicized through mainstream media and entertainment. Some stories may be new to you but long familiar to members of a minority.
Bias can take many forms. Whether learned from family, friends, entertainment, or education – bias is insidious and pervasive. Since racial, gender, socioeconomic, and other biases create a barriers to communication, it is imperative to confront discomfort through humility. Humility does not consist of self-deprecation, but rather of honest self examination. Harvard created a test to evaluate subconscious gender biases in just 15 minutes. You can access it here: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/test-yourself-for-hidden-bias
2. Seek out diverse and neutral media that confronts your bias
The internet has turned the marketplace of ideas into an echo chamber. It is wise to seek out alternative or supplementary points of view. A few of my favorite news sources, while imperfect, complement each other to form a diverse perspective. I enjoy reading and listening to news from the BBC, The Economist, NPR, Wall Street Journal, and Fox. It is risky to get news only from Facebook friends (who likely agree with your point of view) or your favorite news outlet.
Books and podcasts are invaluable resources to escape an intellectual silo. The minds behind Ted Talks curated a list of 62 works by black authors: https://ideas.ted.com/62-great-books-by-black-authors-recommended-by-ted-speakers/
3. Listen – really listen
Communication is a two-way street: humans have one mouth and two ears for a reason. One of my least favorite types of conversations is with a person who replies, “You remind me of when I did this…” Listen to understand, and not purely to respond. In an equal conversation, both parties share information and aim to understand the other’s intended message. It is hard to do that if the other person is talking about their experiences of racial discrimination while you are remembering the time that a manicurist insulted your eyebrows.
Active listening is superior to passive listening. In active listening, you can mentally engage with the information that is being shared. The person you are talking to will be able to read your intentions, so speak respectfully.
4. Beware of social media
Social media can be fun — but its algorithms often contribute to confirmation bias. The creators of social media algorithms aim to addict users with dopamine rewards for every engagement. Often, algorithms choose posts that enrage you and your friends at the missteps of “the other side.” Personally, I am lucky to have friends ranging throughout the world, political spectrum, and life experience. Sometimes I see multiple people share an article about a topic, one person with the caption — “This is destroying our freedoms” and the next person saying “So proud of the progress that we are making.” It scares me to think what might happen without the variety in my friends – would I think that anyone who disagrees with me is irrational?
Netflix’s social media documentary “The Social Dilemma” sheds further light on the dark side of social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more platforms disguise toxicity in the garb of connection with friends, causes, and entertainment. Algorithms and artificial intelligence are not neutral, because they learn from the biased behaviors of users. The people who build algorithms know that rational, intellectual conversation from differing viewpoints is unlikely to raise people’s blood pressure … or increase the engagement numbers. Social media often shows posts from friends, sources, and third parties that paint opposing thoughts in a negative light. Negativity is more shareworthy than neutrality.
Here are a few positive social media habits:
- Join groups that are relevant to your interests and engage respectfully with posts that challenge your existing assumptions.
- Follow diverse news media pages on social media.
- When you want to comment, ask yourself, “If this person was standing in front of me, would I say this to them?”
5. Hold yourself accountable
Accountability is often associated with punishment, emotional pain, and shame. However, accountability can be dignifying, since it empowers you to take responsibility for your actions and move forward. One philosopher defined virtue as “self-government.” If you are aware of how you view people, engage with acquaintances, and inform yourself, you will engage with people from all walks of life.
Intentional communication requires accountability. In Beacon’s Personal Leadership Course, I learned that the responsibility for a message rests on the communicator, not the person who is receiving the message. Biases, prejudices, and even environments (noise, distraction, etc) can interfere with the message. Despite the interference, the communicator must do everything in their power to ensure that the message is received. While some people may perceive this attitude as politically correct, it is also the most effective and sensitive way to communicate.
Last and not least – emotional intelligence is key to accountability. You may have heard of IQ, the infamous Intellectual Quotient, but Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the ability to interpret others’ emotional state and adjust to their needs. Regardless of the content of the conversation, being more aware of the other person’s emotional state increases communication’s effectiveness. If you are talking to someone and their body language indicates that they are uncomfortable and defensive, it may be inappropriate to use aggressive words. Adjust your message and delivery to the person’s emotional state, preferred communication style, and the appropriateness of the moment.
Hold yourself accountable every day – examine your unconscious biases, treat people with fairness, and open your mind and heart to the people around you.
By Esther Ehrenman, Beacon eCommerce Product Manager
Consultant: Marzia Taleb, Beacon eCommerce Manager