Challenge unconscious bias to advance inclusion

National attention has been focused on overt racial tensions in cities across the country. But, there are subtle, more persistent forms of racism. Unchecked, and often unconscious, biases can lead to microagressions — people unintentionally being offensive or unjust in their comments or actions toward others.

Whether it’s evaluating candidates to hire, identifying employees to promote and develop or providing critical feedback, most people have a natural tendency to give opportunities to, and be more forthright with, those who are like themselves. When the majority of managers and decision-makers are non-diverse, lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the leadership of Chicago-area companies is to be expected, unless intentional change is supported. The intentional change is worth the effort.

Research shows that well-managed diverse teams outperform well-managed homogeneous teams.

Yet, we are not fully leveraging the value of diversity. The statistics show 11 (22 percent) of Chicago’s top 50 companies have no ethnic diversity on their boards of directors and 17 out of 50 (34 percent) have no ethnic diversity within their executive ranks, according to Chicago United’s 2014 Corporate Diversity Profile. In addition to reporting the current status of racial and ethnic diversity, the CDP presents a toolkit to help corporations benchmark their progress towards their inclusion aspirations.

Consider implementing the following practices within your organization to challenge unconscious biases and bring diversity and inclusion conversations to the forefront.

Conduct a cultural audit: An audit of the culture will provide leaders with a sense of where the organization stands relative to where it wants to be. It will surface aspects of the culture and work environment that are viewed as strengths and those that are viewed as deterrents to workforce effectiveness and stakeholder engagement.

An audit will also reveal if the culture is viewed and experienced consistently by various demographic and stakeholder groups, as well as identify whether subcultures exist in specific pockets of the corporation. This information is particularly useful when change efforts are being undertaken. Audit results enable leaders to conduct a gap analysis and to develop relevant strategies that bridge the gap.

Benchmark your progress: Identify and benchmark behaviors that correspond to your diversity and inclusion aspirations. The Corporate Diversity Profile Toolkit created by Chicago United provides a framework for learning, implementing and measuring specific talent management areas. Included are insights on leading practices, questions for leadership and a scorecard against which organizations can measure their progress.

Assign D&I performance goals for executives: Commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts, like all change management efforts, begin at the top of the company. To reinforce the importance of diversity and inclusion within your company, create diversity and inclusion performance goals for all executives. Creating diversity and inclusion goals for executives ensures that your organizational leadership is investing in a more inclusive culture.

Create a core D&I council: Develop a core group of individuals to serve as internal champions of diversity and inclusion initiatives. This core team should help to drive awareness within your organization and motivate other employees to embrace and implement the core initiatives of diversity and inclusion.

Conduct D&I training: Implement frequent diversity and inclusion training to further educate and inform employees about the benefits of openly discussing diversity and inclusion topics, including unconscious bias. In addition, present ways for employees to engage in future diversity and inclusion discussions outside of the training.

Strong leadership and management require intentional action. Initiating these practices in your organization will require dedication and persistence among senior leaders. Once we begin to deconstruct unconscious bias, those who have felt marginalized will have room to grow and prosper within businesses.

Reflection on personal perceptions and actions that may unintentionally marginalize individuals and then intentionally opening positive, beneficial dialogue will move our society towards a day when an equitable workplace is the norm and Chicago United will have realized its mission.

Gloria Castillo is president and CEO of Chicago United, a corporate membership organization that promotes multiracial leadership in business to advance parity in economic opportunity.