Are You Having an Identity Crisis? Would You Know It?

Unconscious bias, implicit bias, gender bias, homophobia, microaggression, ethnocentrism, ageism. These are just a few types of prejudices and stereotypes that's causing monumental disruption in the workplace faster than the volatility of advancing technology. How are you addressing these behaviors in the workplace? Are you able to identify them? Is it possible that as a leader you are a key contributor to this issue?

I was a branch manager of a consumer credit counseling service several years ago. We served many counties and a varied socio-economic population. One of our newest clients served men who were AIDS victims. At that time, many labels were assigned to this population and because of the nuances, stigmas, and stereotypes, this group was severely underserved. Typically, I would assign counselors to go out into the community to provide training, but this particular week my counselor who would serve this nonprofit organization wasn't available. Here's a recap of how the conversation went. "Ms. Mickens, you can tell me no because of your religious beliefs... we would like you to come and train our men this week since your regular financial counselor is unavailable...." I was presented with a built-in option to decline, and I took it. I wasn't afraid of the disease, but, I had prejudged these men and hid behind my beliefs to justify my decision. This is something, after many years later, I still regret. I was a part of the problem.

Leaders must regularly evaluate their behavior as well as their role in contributing to a workplace culture that produces undesirable behaviors. It's imperative for leaders to be cognizant of a potentially hostile work environment. They greatly influence the culture in the workplace and when excuses are made and unacceptable or inappropriate behaviors are ignored, it sends a message that how one behaves at work doesn’t matter, not to mention it can be a set up for a lawsuit.

These associative behaviors often are learned, beginning with our early childhood experiences. I attended an HBCU university and I'll never forget a young freshman, African-American said in horror... " I've never been around so many black people in my life..." I was floored! She was this beautiful dark skinned young girl who did not identify with those who looked like her. I later learned this experience was not uncommon for many students matriculating to HBCU schools. Many students were accustomed to living in predominately Caucasian neighborhoods, attending schools of the same. Instinctively we determine what’s comfortable, familiar, and acceptable to us based on our experiences. How we were raised, our belief systems and values were instilled in us from childhood to adulthood. Our biases were shaped by these experiences and impact how we relate to others and how decisions are made.

Is there an identity crisis in your organization? I'm not talking about knowing who you are, but instead, do you know those in your organization? this is not a question about what you think about others in your organization, but about the effort taken to know who they are and how to create an organizational culture that is more unified. Does your team “know and respect those who labor among them” (1Thessalonians 5:12)? Who is part of the "in group"? Who is excluded? We gravitate towards what’s familiar and we reject or distance ourselves from the unfamiliar, but there are costs associated with these identity issues.

The Costs & Consequences of Identity Crisis:

Unintended consequences of unconcious biases create isolation among certain groups within the business. The results of these unchecked behaviors leech toxins in the workplace that causes

  • division between groups

  • a break down in communication; miscommunication

  • withholding pertinent information

  • distrust

  • underutilization of creative talent

  • high turnover- replacement costs for salaried positions cost up to 9 months salary

  • low performance - often associated with low motivation; you're essentially overpaying an employee

  • overall tremendous financial strain on the business and employee morale

  • blind spots

Action Steps:

  • Be intentional - decide to frequently observe your own behavior towards different ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, etc.

  • increase interactions and engagement in the workplace. Ask open-ended questions. Understand you might not be the appropriate person to ask these questions. You may need a third-party, neutral entity to evaluate your organization.

  • Be proactive, not reactive - don't wait for a situation to arise. Begin making assessments and changes now .

Conclusion

We all have biases, however, when we are making decisions on who should be promoted, who should be trained for a career advancement, or who to send as a representative of your organization, you want to be confident you are making decisions based on merit and not because you like them.

As leaders, we have an obligation to demonstrate ethical behavior in the work environment. When the leader is seen as an ethical person, employees feel safe and they are loyal. Loyalty will attract royalties (was that too much)? When you genuinely care for your team, you intentionally exercise fair and equal treatment of those entrusted in your care.

Live 4 Change, LLC equip C-suite executives, managers, emerging and experienced leaders with the right tools to address leadership and organizational gaps; improve performance, increase profits, and fulfill their purpose through transformational change. If you need assistance with creating a more succinct and inclusive workplace, let's connect. We offer various workshops such as what's listed below and we will customize workshops according to your needs. Please contact us: www.live4changellc/services

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