A decked-out trailer was set up in Chicago’s Millennium Park on Sept. 5 as an orchestra practiced its set list in the nearby Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The vehicle, called the Check Your Blind Spots mobile experience, was part of a diversity and inclusion-centric concert series organized by the group Chicago United.
Multiple stations that seek to educate people about unconscious bias adorned the inside of the vehicle, from an area where people could watch a video about why unconscious bias matters, to a large touch-screen where people took a quiz on how this bias impacts the decision making process, and space where an employee can give practical advice on how people can address their own biases. These tips looked at evidence objectively, shared the “why” behind decisions and played devil’s advocate by seeking out contradictory views.
The mobile tour has been traveling across the country the past several months, visiting corporate campuses, universities and common areas in St. Louis, Minneapolis and Orlando. People walked through the mobile experience and also learned about CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, an initiative began by consultancy PwC for which 500-plus organizations have pledged to advance their D&I efforts.
Unconscious bias training has received some amount of constructive criticism the past several months, for example when Starbucks shut down its stores for a half day of bias training in May after the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks in April. Critics questioned how effective this training could actually be to create meaningful change.
In the “Check Your Blind Spots” mobile tour, though, employees, students and passersby learned about unconscious bias training as a stepping stone for further diversity and inclusion actions.
The business leaders who signed the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion’s pledge promised to take three concrete actions, said Gloria Castillo, president and CEO of Chicago United. The actions are:
- We will continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.
- We will implement and expand unconscious bias education.
- We will share best — and unsuccessful — practices:
Regarding unconscious bias training, one important fact to understand this that this bias has real, long-term consequences, like a pay gaps that exist for women and people of color. This impacts their overall lifetime earnings and generational wealth.
“Underpinning those pay gaps, which people are very conscious of now and want to address, is an issue of bias,” Castillo said.
People may think about bias being something that’s a little bit soft, intellectual and not real world, but “the outcomes of allowing bias to continue have real-life consequences for people in their earnings, their wealth, how they educate their children, where they live, what’s in their savings and what’s in their retirement.”
Castillo also said the ability to have “courageous conversations” is especially important. People should be able to talk to each other in a civil way, and there are ways that facilitators can control the process of conversation. A significant event in Chicago is the trial of Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer on trial for murder for shooting an unarmed black teenager 16 times in 2014. Van Dyke is the first Chicago officer to be charged with first-degree murder since 1980, according to CNN.
A courageous conversation might be that a person who is leading a diverse team sits down with everybody to talk about how everyone feels about this coming to trial without judgment and with no right or wrong answers.
“Let’s understand so that as this unfolds, we can talk to each other in a civil way,” Castillo said. “I can understand how you’re feeling, and you can understand how I’m feeling. That kind of conversation doesn’t usually take place, but when they do, team members feel more connected.”
Emotional tragedies that stir up controversial issues/tensions seem to have had a strong impact in starting the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion in the first place.
It began two years ago, after a series of shootings in summer 2016, said Jim Kolar, central market managing partner at PwC, part of PwC’s board of partners and a board member for Chicago United. In early July, a white police officer killed Alton Sterling, instigating outrage about police brutality, and a couple days later, a man killed five police officers in Dallas in yet another deadly shooting. PwC leader Tim Ryan was concerned about how people were feeling in the aftermath and how there was not much open dialogue on the topic.
“The leaders could see that in our people,” Kolar said. “In the words of [Ryan], ‘The silence was deafening.’ ”
Ryan began to build the initiative to encourage conversation, eventually getting 500-plus CEOs signed on.
The third action item of the pledge plays out by allowing CEO dialogues in which they meet to have discussions around diversity. Pledges also share their best practices online for everyone to see, thus allowing leaders to have conversations about what did and did not work with them with diversity initiatives, Kolar said.
Primarily, leaders share their successes rather than their failures, he added, but it’s still a valuable opportunity for organizations to learn from each other.
Since the initiative began, Kolar has seen a positive change in terms of how comfortable people are having difficult conversations. There were challenges in those initial dialogues.
“You have to have the first one, because it’s uncomfortable, and you need to get past that uncomfortable phase, and having those dialogues is you get past that,” he said. “But until you do, it’s really tough.”
Event attendee Steve Beard is the senior vice president and general counsel at global education provider Adtalem Global Education, a Chicago-area company that signed the pledge. Adtalem had already been using unconscious bias training, but its leaders were interested in getting involved partly because of the opportunity to learn about other companies’ best practices, he said.
“That convening power and the ability to leverage that collective expertise and experience was appealing to us,” Beard said.
The business case for diversity is well understood in organizations, he added, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a long way to go in improving their performance in that area. “The how becomes increasingly more important as organizations gain acceptance of the what,” he said.
Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.