When I made a lunch date with an African American friend of mine, she told me to meet her at 12:00 noon CPT. For those of you who don’t know what CPT is, you can Google it. This refers to the cultural stereotype that African Americans tend to show up late. Is this racist? I submit to you that it is not. First, let’s go through some definitions. Stereotypes are assumptions made about a group of people that is not based on personal experience. Generalizations are assumptions made about a group of people that is based on personal experience. Because you have that experience, you have a tendency to generalize a certain characteristic about everyone in that group. Take a look at the following clip from the movie, Up in the Air:
The young person in the clip tells George Clooney’s character that his stereotyping of people in line for airport screenings is “racist”. He says he learned from his mother to stereotype because it is “faster”. Is he racist? Would the line with people with children, older people, and people who look Middle Eastern have moved slower? Does this justify his stereotyping? He doesn’t hate these people because of who they are, he has simply learned from past experience which line usually moves the quickest.
I have been exploring these issues over the past year during the creation of my latest online course on diversity and inclusion in the AEC (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) industry. The basis of this course is that we all have biases. All of us. Without exceptions. Based on our past experiences, our upbringing, where we are from, our social networks, our religious background, and our world view, we all have biases. The course focuses on recognizing those biases and doing our best to overcome them. And having biases does not necessarily make you racist or misogynist or misandrist or homophobic.
You can determine your unconscious biases by taking various IATs (Implicit Association Test). It’s available online for many different groups including African American, Muslims, and women. Through your response times for incongruent photos and associations, the test determines if you have unconscious bias. Google Project Implicit IAT to take these tests. It is a good place to start recognizing your unconscious biases. This is the first step.
The second step is to start having these meaningful discussions around race and gender and other stereotypes and generalizations. I have been teaching these diversity and inclusion classes in a live format and one common response from the mostly white male audience is that they “don’t see color”. I’m sure they are trying to be nice and I’m sure they are sincere. The only issue is that this type of response shuts down the dialogue that needs to be spoken. A young African American male in the AEC industry can have a very different experience than a young Caucasian male. A female project manager can have a very different experience than a male. We need to explore these experiences, better understand them, and have some of those difficult discussions about race and gender. If you are offended by something or having a difficult time because of another’s bias, it is your duty to let this person know, allow them to correct the behavior, move on, and continue to grow through these experiences.
Stay tuned for more discussion on diversity and inclusion in future blogs.
If you want to take a look at this course and the other courses in our Total Leadership Library, click here or email me and I will send you some free demo license keys.
Also, for a free white paper on project success that includes two of my books and another white paper, go to brentdarnell.com/whitepaper