Personal and social identity profoundly affects our lives: from everything we do, to what we think and say. With so much diversity in the modern workplace, it’s not surprising that inclusivity is uppermost on most corporate agendas. We don’t check our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or social class in at the door when we get to work. For this post, we’ll talk about how leaders can apply the Identity Lens, the first of our unique Four Lenses of Leadership approach, to foster inclusivity in their organizations.
Did That Person Really Mean It That Way?
When we work with such diverse teams of people, some identifying similarly to us and some not, we might encounter or implicit and/or explicit bias coming from ourselves or others. When these biases are expressed in passive-aggressive or very subtle ways, this is a microaggression. Implicit and explicit bias, microaggressions—these are things that make for a very tense company culture and high turnover rates, not to mention costly lawsuits.
Microaggressions are barely perceptible insults, either verbal or nonverbal, which make the target feel uncomfortable, threatened or slighted. Derald Wing Sue, the author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life, explains in an interview with PBS, “Microaggressions are varied, from being conscious and deliberate on a continuum to being outside one’s level of awareness.”
Microaggressions, according to Wing Sue, are psychologically damaging and hurtful. Navigating the muddy waters of subtext and inference is exhausting and creates a culture of suspicion and mistrust. Microaggressions impact employee retention, productivity, and engagement. If employees feel disrespected, devalued and unheard, they are much less to take risks, to work harder and want a future with your company.
Identity in Relation to the Other Lenses
“As leaders, we need to be continually working on the Identity Lens. Every single person in your organization; whatever their social identity, can use the Four Lenses to create a truly inclusive and productive workforce.” –Anne Phibbs, Founder, and President Strategic Diversity Initiatives
Leaders, managers, and supervisors need to talk about identity in a productive, helpful and inclusive way. The truth is, most people are nervous about having these awkward conversations because identity is so nuanced and complex. The default behavior is to pretend that any social identity different from our own does not exist (I just don’t see race) which completely negates the beauty of diversity.
Through the Identity Lens, leaders see team members holistically: Yes, we are all the same in the sense that we all want to do a good job, care deeply about being respected and valued, and want to be respectful; but, more importantly, we are all different in that each individual on our team has a unique social identity fundamental to who they really are.
The Identity lens is closely tied to all of the lenses. For example, how well we understand each other depends on how openly and respectfully we communicate, but how well we communicate depends on our personalities and communication styles. And how well we communicate directly affects how well we perform as a team.
Look In and Look Out! Teaching Inclusivity to Leaders
When we train leaders, we help them to look inward and uncover any implicit biases they might not be aware of. One tool we might use is the free Implicit Association Test (IAT) through Harvard University.
Then, we act out certain scenarios where microaggressions occur so that leaders can identify these in the future.
The team is talking about how they like their supervisors. One team member, a person of color, shares that sometimes she feels that their supervisors don’t listen to her in the same way as her white colleagues. She says it doesn’t happen all the time, but she feels the need to speak up about it.
A white colleague jumps in and says maybe it’s not about race and that maybe the supervisors are under stress. She finishes with an admonition for her colleague to have a positive attitude.
In this scenario, the white colleague thinks she’s being helpful, but she’s using her own lens to view the situation and applying it to a person of color, rather than trying to see the situation from her colleague’s point of view.
The identity lens works best when we examine our own biases and look at situations from diverse points of view.
Taking Steps Towards Inclusivity
We give leaders five actionable steps to applying the Identity Lens.
- Turn the identity lens inward and then outward. Notice all the assumptions we make about other people. Then learn about the stereotypes that are associated with different groups of people.
- Realize that we can’t take those biases out of our heads. That is not how the brain works.
- Know the difference between thinking and acting on these biases. This is what we work on as leaders, but also something we want to model for our teams.
- Inclusivity is a lifelong work that involves vulnerability and humility. We will make mistakes but admit them and apologize.
- Be educated by diverse groups of people. The more exposure we have to different people, the more we will start to understand different points of view.
Racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation—these identities have always been in our workplaces. Inclusivity is about embracing and welcoming diverse viewpoints. As leaders, we have to make positive decisions about how we run our companies and how we work with each other.
The answer is not to pretend social identity doesn’t exist, or we keep implicit bias working against inclusion. In teaching the identity lens, we help leaders move against the status quo to openly and respectfully talk about what’s always been in the room.
Author: Paul Fayad; Co-Founder and CFO/CCO
Author: Anne Phibbs; Founder and President of Strategic Diversity Initiatives
Designer: Patrick Vertino; Art Director
Designer: Adrian Ramirez; Art Director