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Just Work (2021) reveals just how damaging unchecked bias and discrimination are in the workplace. Everyone has unconscious biases and prejudices that they bring with them to work. But if these aren’t confronted head-on they can create a toxic work environment with unhappy employees who can’t do their best. Tackling bias is a win for everyone.
Key idea 1 of 10
Staying silent has hidden costs.
Kim Scott was preparing to give a talk about “Radical Candor” to a group of Silicon Valley executives. As she was about to step on stage, a man ran up to her shouting that he needed a safety pin for his shirt which was missing a button.
Evidently, he’d mistaken her for one of the event staff. Scott was stunned into silence by the encounter. Was he exhibiting unconscious bias, and assuming that because she was a woman she must be on the staff? Or was it evidence of deeper prejudice – part of a ploy to put her in her place and show her that he didn’t respect her as a speaker?
Unsure how to approach the situation and fearing a conflict, Scott remained silent.
This is the key message: Staying silent has hidden costs.
There are many reasons to stay quiet instead of calling out bias. You may have valid fears that speaking out will land you in trouble. Or the very same prejudice you’re experiencing might make it harder to be heard. Women and people of color aren’t allowed to express feelings in the way that white men are – they’re constantly stereotyped as being “over-sensitive” or “angry.”
But keeping quiet has its costs as well. You’re left to deal with the resentment and no way to express it. Your relationships with your colleagues may suffer, too. And the person expressing the biased beliefs will have no opportunity to recognize and change their behavior.
So, how can you react quickly the next time you hear someone spouting some harmful stereotype? Depending on whether the person is exhibiting bias or a deeply-held prejudice, you should use an “I” or an “it” statement. For example, in the safety pin example, Scott could have said, “I don’t work here, I’m about to make a speech.” That way, she’d have calmly corrected him and given him a chance to confront his bias.
Responding to prejudiced beliefs requires a different approach. You need to lay a firm boundary by using an “it” statement. For example, you could say, “It’s both disrespectful and untrue to say that women are less intelligent than men.” Or, “It’s against company policy to use sexist language.”
Using “it” language is very effective in this situation because it allows you to counter prejudice with fact, and draw a clear boundary, making it clear that it won’t be tolerated in the workplace.