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Greenville Business Magazine

Consciously Striving to Overcome Unconscious Bias

Aug 01, 2017 03:12PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Dr. Nika White
President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, LLC

Conversations regarding the need to create safe space environments for employees to share concerns regarding complex social issues and address issues often relevant to perceived bias is increasing in popularity. Implicit bias is often an overlooked diversity topic. Both the Greenville Health System and the Greenville Chamber are intentional in executing strategies to minimize the effects of bias. 

Greenville Health System
 This is one area Dr. Scott Porter, of vice president of culture and inclusivity of Greenville Health System, communicates the organization is attempting to be very purposeful in improving. 

“Socially complex issues need a venue in which employees are safe to discuss all of the myriad perspectives that each of our backgrounds brings to bear,” Porter says. “The very first thing in the organization can do is to have these types of conversations openly performed by the most senior members of leadership publicly and in full display of the organization’s employees.

Porter explains that it’s difficult for people to evolve without feeling as if they are going to be punished for their own ignorance or their own biases. GHS is embarking upon an active alteration of culture that accepts and even encourages these personal journeys of enlightenment so that employees can learn from each other. 

Although the vice president position is new and how the diversity and inclusion work will evolve is still being determined, Porter says that at the 30,000-foot view, leadership’s goal is to transform GHS into a real “safe space.” 

“This will be a space that will encourage open expression in dialogue concerning implicit as well as explicit biases,” Porter says. “People that hold the bias will be encouraged to bring their biases out from the shadows into the light.” 

He believes this is the only way growth and change can effectively occur.  This practice is more commonly seen in many corporations with robust diversity and inclusion initiatives, giving acknowledgment to the fact that every person has biases and every interaction a person has has the potential to be influenced by bias. 

Porter shared that over the last several years, some of his biases have led him to certain conclusions that may have been accurate in some cases and inaccurate in others. The reality is that both positive and negative biases can compromise an inclusive culture. It is the recognition of the fluidity of bias that is important. It is important to recognize when biases lead us down a path where they negatively affect another person. 

Often, it is easier to focus on managing biases by removing them from processes rather than from people. People should be encouraged to openly explore their biases safely and without judgment as a way to manage bias. Self-awareness can expose bias leading to mindfulness, which is a strategy to combat bias behavior.  

“As an African-American the largely majority organization, I think that openly expressing my own vulnerabilities and journey may provide enough comfort to allow others to do the same,” Porter says. 

One area where bias can negatively impact opportunities for diverse suppliers is in procurement/purchasing. Often, minority-owned or women-owned firms lack opportunities to be in the consideration set for contracts because of bias in the favor of majority-owned companies. GHS’s supplier diversity efforts exist to change this perception. GHS works to include as many diverse suppliers and educate buyers on the benefits of working with minority and women-owned businesses. 

Greenville Chamber 
 The Greenville Chamber also recognizes the importance of educating on the topic of bias and its effect on organizational culture. One way the Chamber accomplishes this is through leadership training offered to its investors. A few years ago, the Chamber became an Affiliate of National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), an international, nonprofit leadership training organization that works to eliminate racism and all other forms of prejudice and discrimination. 

NCBI has an outstanding reputation as a catalyst for helping communities gain a deeper understanding of inclusion and multiculturalism. This workshop consists of a series of incremental, experiential activities that provide peer training strategies for welcoming diversity and leading in diverse communities/organizations. The workshop is designed to help leaders understand the dynamics of oppression, and unconscious bias by working through a series of personal and small group explorations. 
In short, participants learn to celebrate similarities and differences, recognize the misinformation they have learned about various groups, and understand the personal impact of specific incidents of discrimination and bias.  The training is effective in creating a safe space environment for individuals to express issues of concern that may impact their ability to perform at a high level. This training is now consistently offered as part of the Chamber’s Leadership Greenville, a 10-month program leadership development program. 

The cornerstone for combating bias is education. With this as the goal, on Oct. 17 the Chamber is offering a full-day diversity and inclusion summit, entitled, “Leveraging Human Difference: A Strategic Priority for Business Success & Community Prosperity.” The summit will include breakfast and lunch keynote speakers with several workshops throughout the day, and will culminate with a networking reception for presenters and attendees to continue the dialogue. The Chamber encourages organizations to consider this as a staff development day. Speaker line up, sessions topics, registration and other information can be found at www.greenvillechamber.org.

I wish to thank Greenville Health System and the Greenville Chamber for allowing me the opportunity to highlight their work in this feature so that others can be inspired toward meaningful action to enhance inclusion.
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