Bianca Wilson, co-founder of /Sā/, left a stable job at Apple to pursue a new bottom line in business: diversity and inclusion. /Sā/ workshops challenge teams to uncover organizational blind spots and biases so they can experience new levels of empathy, collaboration, influence, and profitability. I asked Bianca to share the necessity and impact of diversity and inclusion, and practical steps within that sphere we can take to create change.
You have a powerful quote on your website that says, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” How have you’ve seen these words play out in the teams you’ve facilitated?
Many companies see diversity and inclusion as a numbers game: How do we get our numbers up? That only points to the diversity part of the equation. Diversity is “getting invited” to the team, but not having a voice once there. Many underrepresented groups who speak up are met with defensiveness, numbness, or indifference. Companies may have the numbers, but their lack of inclusion results in turnover, lack of engagement, or worse (lawsuits, etc.). The very thing that gets them invited, their difference, doesn’t have space to thrive; their voices are not heard and their experiences are not validated. Glennon Doyle has a quote about creating horseshoes instead of circles.
When teams create circles they block certain people out. When they create horseshoes, diverse people can come into the team and keep coming in because they feel invited.
How do you get teams to be open, honest, and vulnerable despite the desire to be politically correct, and the charge around bias and privilege?
We use an exercise called “exposing our own bias”. As facilitators, we start by sharing biased thoughts we have, and then sharing how we can go out of our way to not let biases control our behavior. Our mantra is: You reveal. You feel it. You heal it. You move on.
The tone is that there is no right or wrong, there are simply different perspectives. In other words, we can have biases and racist thoughts and not be bad people. When we come from that place, people can say what has not felt safe to say or feel before.
Empathy and curiosity are much better tools for creating vulnerability, accountability, and ultimately healing than defensiveness and disconnect.
How do these transformative conversations and the inclusion they create increase profitability, retention, and long-term success?
The saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” is real. When there are diverse perspectives at one table, you generate more ideas, collaboration, and creativity that ultimately impact profitability. You have an edge on everyone else. Think of the creative collaboration companies are missing when they don’t foster inclusive and diverse cultures.
According to McKinsey Research, racially diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform industry medians and have fifteen times more sales revenue.
One of your missions is to help organization’s uncover blind spots: What are the most common biases leaders don’t see and why?
Many leaders believe, or want to believe, that it’s an equal playing field, that everyone who steps through those doors has an equal chance of succeeding. “If I can pull myself up by the bootstraps, you should be able to as well.” The assumption isn’t true.
Companies and agencies find employees from a large pool, but the pool isn’t diverse. The things candidates need to get into that pool in the first place require privilege.
Because of a leader’s position or experience, they don’t see the phenomenon called “leaving parts of yourself at the door”. People, especially minorities, leave parts of themselves behind because they don’t feel safe bringing them into the office. For example, when women become (stereotypical) men in order to lead, they leave massive parts of their perspective and emotions behind that could open new levels of dialogue and empathy if engaged.
What organizations have you worked with, and what can we learn from them?
I started at Media Arts Lab, the Advertising Agency for Apple, and /Sa/ has now trained companies like Sony Music, PMC/Variety Magazine, and the Los Angeles based co-working space Biz Babez.
The obstacle we face is that many companies like one-hit-wonders, when one workshop is just the beginning of the conversation.
The companies that succeed long-term care less about quick fixes and more about long term implementation.
They have systems in place that maintain results. They do the work to create cultures and environments that support inclusion so minorities not only stay but thrive, succeed, and grow.
You do a great job empowering all employees to contribute as leaders. What tangible steps can individuals take to make diversity and inclusion a priority while pursuing their own brand or business partnerships?
Get curious about your own bias. Look at your friend group and who you spend time with at work as an indication of possible blind spots. Then, notice who you might be unintentionally excluding, whether by socioeconomic factors, gender, race, etc. Start moving your circle to a horseshoe, and invite them to sit with you; literally invite them to lunch and hear their perspective.
The answer to this question could fill a book, but what is the risk of NOT spotting blind spots and not fostering an inclusive culture?
The risk is what our country looks like right now.
Not that our corporate culture is wrong, but is it what we want it to look like? Corporations play a role in almost every aspect of our lives. Transforming these environments will massively impact the rest of society; The ripple effect (for good or for worse) is unavoidable.
The risk is creating more of the same, and more division. Diversity and inclusion is an opportunity to heal, connect, and grow in ways we have not been able to when only one voice is heard.
In your opinion, what three questions should every leader be asking themselves on a regular basis?
Am I aware of my biases? If so, what am I doing to educate myself and challenge them?
Whose perspectives am I missing and how do I literally invite them into my conversations?
What does inclusion look like for me/my company, and what can I do to fill the gaps?
Photos courtesy of /Sā/