Inclusive Growth Show

Breaking Down Bias: How to Create a Culture of Inclusive Leadership

June 06, 2023 Toby Mildon Episode 104
Inclusive Growth Show
Breaking Down Bias: How to Create a Culture of Inclusive Leadership
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast, I spoke with Andy Nisevic from One Degree Training and Coaching about implicit bias. We talked about the role it plays in decision-making and its impact on inclusive leadership.

If you want to build a more inclusive workplace that you can be proud of please visit our website to learn more.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Tody Mildon: Hey there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast. I am Toby Mildon, and today I'm joined by Andy Nisevic. And Andy and I will be talking a lot about implicit biases, and Andy has got a really great and interesting career, and you'll learn from him and how the topic of implicit bias has come up in his career and how he now talks about implicit bias with his own clients. So, before we dive into the questions. Andy, lovely to see you. Would you mind just introducing yourself a bit more, letting the person know, listening to us right now, a bit about your background and what you do? 

Andy Nisevic: Sure. Thanks so much for having us on, Toby. As Toby said, my name's Andy Nisevic and I'm the founder and director of a company called One Degree Training and Coaching. We specialize in leadership development to encourage and create a culture of leadership. So rather than having a mixed bag of skills, that leadership becomes something that's grown from the bottom up and it's becomes the everyday lived experience. Prior to, starting the company back in October last year, I was in the Air Force for 23 years. I joined up at the young age of 19, young, naive, ambitious, not really knowing, what the world was all about. And I learned some great lessons. I learned some harsh lessons as everyone, in any walk of life does and it was a fantastic career. The last few years I was teaching the RAF leadership and management courses, and it was hands down the best job I've ever had, which ironically, loving my job so much is what caused me to wanna leave because I found my place in world. And it was delivering this kind of training to people, which I love.

Tody Mildon: Andy, that sounds brilliant and really interesting career at the RAF and how that's now informing your current work around leadership development. So I mean, the main topic of today's conversation is around implicit bias. So let's just start with the basics. Sorry. What is bias and why do we have these biases? 

Andy Nisevic: I'll just caveat that I'm not an academic, so I'm not gonna be able to give you an academic answer to or definition of what the bias is. But in very, very simple terms, a bias is a perception of the world and that all is in very, very simply. That can be a negative perception or a positive perception. It's just because of the experiences that we've got. We perceive the world based on those experiences and we will skew reality dependent on how we interpret the current situation.

Tody Mildon: That's really good. One of my diversity and inclusion heroes is Verna Myers, who is now the head of diversity and inclusion for Netflix. She lives over in America. She's a lawyer by background, and she's done a really great Ted talk about biases. And she says that biases are the stories that we make up about people before we get to know them. And I just think that's such a great way of putting it because it's an academic topic that has been studied extensively, particularly for the last decade. So there are those academic definitions out there, but I just like the simplicity and the accessibility of how Verna put it.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah, absolutely. I love that.

Tody Mildon: So how do biases occur then?

Andy Nisevic: Well, very simply based on our backgrounds. Between the ages of two and seven, we are very much subjected to the ideas, the opinions, the beliefs of other people. And quite often, like for example, I'm in my forties, people of our generation, we're still, in some ways, still suffering really because of the bias beliefs that our parents, our grandparents, subjected us to and made us believe were true as we were growing up. And obviously as we grow up, we develop our own intelligence, our own perception of the world. However, because those external beliefs have been pushed into us from such a young age. They become part of our core beliefs, and it's that deeper level stuff that really affects our bias because it exists within the subconscious. So we don't have any control over it. But then there's more conscious ways of creating biases. So for example, if you were, let's say an academic student and you were picked on by the more sporty types, I think that's a very, biased way of stereotyping, bullying in school places.

Andy Nisevic: And I find out that was your lived experience. Then as you grow up, because you were treated badly by people of a certain type, of a certain demographic, I.e. Sporty, athletic people, you might have a negative feeling towards athletic people in as an adult. So as you interact with those around you, as you meet new people, you see somebody coming up who's who looks like they work out, looks like they're quite sporty, you might straight away have those defenses. There are many, many other examples.

Andy Nisevic: So for example, if you, belong to a certain race and you were bullied by a certain other race, you would potentially have defensive reactions to those people. If there was a certain demographic of society as you were growing up that, let's say my personal circumstances when I was growing up, there was one particular group of people who you actively avoided in the estates where I grew up, if you saw them, because 90% of the street crime in the estate was, carried out by one certain group of people. So then that becomes a defensive reaction that we take forward. So that subconsciously, if we look at, if we see somebody who looks like that person our subconscious get, puts those defensive barriers up straight away.

Tody Mildon: Yeah which is like that saying from Verna Myers, it's the stories that we make up about people before we get to know them.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah. The exact opposite is true as well when it comes to biases because the reason that we have bias is want to protect us but it also then to help us create great relationships with people. So if there's a certain type of person who you got on with brilliantly when you're at school, then you're gonna have positive biases towards those kinda people. If there's a certain type of person that was a busy, positive influence on you as you were growing up, then again, somebody who looks like that or carries themselves in a similar sort of way, then you're gonna naturally gravitate towards them. So there are positive aspects to bias as well. And I think that's what people often forget is that having a bias is not the same as being a discriminate.

Tody Mildon: Yeah. Malcolm Gladwell in his book says that biases can help us in some situations and they can hinder us in others. And I think that's a really interesting point. And as a leader, I suppose it's important to understand when biases are being a hindrance. So if you are in a position of responsibility where you are deciding who gets a promotion, if you are promoting somebody in your own image, if your natural tendency is to associate with a certain type of person and they're more likely to get promoted, then that actually might work against other people.

Andy Nisevic: From my experience, developing leaders, it's quite common that you'll see people who are promoted, who are in the same sort of mold as their bosses. It's not because necessarily they're consciously favoring those people, but their managers have got a positive bias. So it's that, it's not conscious thoughts. They're not necessarily applying conscious activities to it. It's all in the subconscious where you're seeing the reasons to promote somebody rather than the reasons not to.

Tody Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. And I see this a lot with my clients where they're concerned about a lack of diversity at the senior levels of an organization, and they're really concerned about groupthink and the fact that they've got a leadership team that are from similar backgrounds, thinking along similar lines, and therefore they're missing out on creativity, innovation, more well-rounded decision making and that kind of thing.

Andy Nisevic: And it can be that, that is one of the dangers of positive bias, obviously. One of them, the obvious one is other people's perception that it is discrimination. So either positive discrimination for the people who are getting promoted or negative discrimination against the people who aren't getting promoted. But often it's just, it's not that simple. It's far more complicated. There's deep psychology behind how bias works and how it affect the way that we think and what we see in certain people and what we don't see in other people. But yeah, that group think is, an incredibly dangerous thing within the business sense, because if everybody is making the same decisions, everybody is acting in the same way, then there's no ability to react when something different happens because there's...

Tody Mildon: Absolutely.

Andy Nisevic: That different perspectives, those new ideas that need to come in within the modern changing world.

Tody Mildon: Absolutely. I mean, obviously you work with leaders in your day-to-day work. What are some of the other risks of ignoring our implicit biases? 

Andy Nisevic: The number one risk is how other people perceive it. So there have been number of diversity and inclusion cases that I've been indirectly aware of over the years, and a very, very common feature is one person or think they're being discriminated against and the other person categorically, quite aggressively denies it taking offense that they could be deemed as being discriminate, whereas act both people are right. And this is what I mean is not simple. There's deep level psychology that goes on here. Both people are right because the person who is perceived that they are being discriminated against from their perspective, they are. But from the person who is defending themselves in this situation, they haven't acted with discrimination. They've just acted according to their own biases. And this is all going on in subconscious, so they're not aware of the impacts that they're having on other people.

Tody Mildon: Yeah. And that's why we call it unconscious bias because it's these kind of, implicit biases that are happening in the other than consciousness.

Andy Nisevic: Yes.

Tody Mildon: I like what you were saying about, it's our kind of perspectives through experience. One of my favorite sayings when I talk about unconscious biases, that "we falsely think that we accurately see the world and then we make decisions based on what we falsely think is true."

Andy Nisevic: Yeah.

Tody Mildon: It's a bit of a mind bender, but I've done enough training now with thought I've said it so many times that it is just ingrained in me. But it's, yeah, you, "we falsely think that we accurately see the world and then we make decisions based on what we falsely think is true."

Andy Nisevic: You've just reminded me of a book that I'm reading at the moment. I can't remember the name of the author, but the title of the book is "You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are."

Tody Mildon: Oh, that's a good one.

Andy Nisevic: And it refers to a bit of research that says that every single human being has a physical blind spot, more or less front and center of your vision. But we don't perceive it because based on our experiences and our knowledge, our brain does what it's designed to do and it just fill in the blank. So we're not aware of this, but the easiest way that I found to contextualize it is when that, those times when you walk down the streets and you all of a sudden somebody appears out, nowhere and they say, I've been trying to wave at you and get your attention for the last couple of minutes, and you just haven't been aware. But that's because they've been within that blind spot and your brain wasn't expecting to be there. So you just kind of fill in the blanks over the top and so it happens within our vision but it also happens within our understanding as well. There is only so much data that our brains can process.

Tody Mildon: Yet there's a really great video and you can get it on YouTube and I've used it in training where on the screen are people wearing white T-shirts and black T-shirts and the voiceover says you're gonna watch a 30 second flip. Try and count as many people wearing white T-shirts as possible. So you're sat there watching this video and you're trying to count the number of people wearing a white T-shirt and then it pauses and then the voiceover artist says, but did you see the dancing bear? [laughter] And you're like, "what dancing bear?" And he goes, watch it again. And they replay the video and then there's this bear that does a moonwalk across the screen. [laughter] And I think that's what you were talking about. You're so focused on trying to count the number of people wearing a white T-shirt that you miss the moonwalking bear.

Andy Nisevic: Right there, right in front and centre of the vision. There is a similar one that the study was counts the number of passes between players on a football pitch and a gorilla that walks across or a bloke in a gorilla's suit walks across the screen. Less than half of the people taking part in the study saw this gorilla that was right in front of them. [laughter]

Speaker 4: If your company has a great diversity and inclusion strategy, if your organisation has an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking, if the best talents in your industry are working for you, if all your employees are happy and feel included, then feel free to skip this message for about 30 seconds and continue listening to the podcast interview with Toby. But if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas, your employer reputation is taking a hit.

Speaker 4: Toby Mildon is one of the UK's leading diversity and inclusion experts who has helped top companies like Deloitte, the BBC, Sony Pictures and Centrica, as well as numerous scale up businesses who want an outstanding inclusive culture. To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, log on to Toby's webinar at www.mildon.co.uk/free-webinar to accelerate your company's diversity and inclusion strategy in 40 minutes. Thanks for listening. And now back to the podcast interview with Toby.

Tody Mildon: Biases and being aware of your blind spots is one area of being an inclusive leader. And it is something that Deloitte talk about in their six signature traits of inclusive leadership. But I do know that the other thing that you talk about is the danger of ego.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah.

Tody Mildon: As a leader or the importance of humility in being an inclusive leader. What more can you say about that? 

Andy Nisevic: So ego is something that everybody has. So in the same way that everybody has biases, everybody has ego. Again, I'm not an academic, so I won't go into the full science of it, maybe 'cause I don't know it fully. But there's three aspects of the psyche. There's the ego, the super-ego and the id. The id being the calm and sensible and kinda the boring one that keeps you safe and everything. The super-ego being that absolutely catastrophic mess of a person who just wants to go and throw themselves out of an airplane. And who cares about a parachute? We don't need that. And the ego that is still risk averse, but a little less, but it is kind of your sense of superiority and that sense of righteousness that we have. When we operate purely with an ego, what we're doing is we're concentrating on ourself, what our needs are, whether we're right or wrong, what our opinions are.

Andy Nisevic: There is nothing better than to disconnect us from the people that we're responsible for or the people that we're working with than operating with an ego. We need every aspect of that psyche. If we didn't have that super-ego, we would never take any risks at all. We would never have any fun because the id would just keep us safe and boring and we'd be in a locked room. If we didn't have the ego, we'd never stretch ourselves. We'd never really push our point of view and allow ourselves to be heard. If we didn't have that id, then we would just be jumping out of a plane with no parachute. So we need all aspects of the psyche, including the ego.

Andy Nisevic: But if we only operate with an ego, then we're just disconnecting because we don't allow ourselves to hear other people's ideas, other people's opinions and thoughts. It's all just about us. That's why we need to balance out everything. Let our ego go. Quite often, a big mistake that leaders make is they tell people to do something or what they should be doing. I know this is a podcast, so they should in inverted commas. Whereas actually, what we need to be doing as leaders is we need to ask questions. Because when we ask questions, we allow other people to be themselves, to bring up there. So we as leaders, we can then learn more about that person, learn more about where their strengths are, what they're capable of or what their potential is, but also then the areas that they need a little bit of development in and where we can then support them. When we operate from ego, we don't allow ourselves to ask the questions. It's just constant tell. You should be doing this. You should be doing that. And as Professor Steve Peters once said on a talk I heard him give, and so should is probably one of the most dangerous words in the English language.

Tody Mildon: Okay.

Andy Nisevic: Because it comes from bias, it generates, comes from assumption, but guarantees absolutely nothing.

Tody Mildon: Yeah, I met that when I was training to be an executive coach, they said, keep an eye out for the should words. If somebody says, "oh, I should be doing this or I should be doing that." Then that's a good word to look out for. So, we've talked about how our implicit biases can positively or negatively impact our decision making. We've talked about the role of ego as a leader. If the person listening to us today wants to be more inclusive leader, they want to be more aware of their biases or their blind spots, they want to be more curious, they want to have more humility. What's your advice to them? 

Andy Nisevic: So the biggest lesson that I learned unfortunately far too late in life was that actually we as individuals are probably the last person to know what's best for us. We like to think that we're self for whatever, actually we're not. We very often don't allow ourselves to be truly honest with ourself. And that's another part of the psyche that prevents from doing that. I Mentioned Steve Peters early his chimp paradox that chimp brain when he doesn't like to be wrong. So it'll create all sorts of havoc and excuses and chaos in order to stop you really delving deep into yourself. So whatever you can do to raise your self-awareness is the number one piece of advice that I would really encourage. Not just leaders, not just people with leadership responsibility, but everyone to do. Because there are loads and loads of assessments that you can do, some paid for, some free.

Andy Nisevic: And obviously the free ones, you take the pinch sort because they're quite often not, they're lead magnets to try and get you to buy something. But what the free ones do give you is an awareness of where you might have some biases. It's not that you do, but where you might, when we can be aware of where our biases are, when we can challenge ourselves and we can slow our decision making down. So let's say, that we use the example promoting somebody. Again, we can ask ourselves questions such as, what evidence have I got that tells me that person A is a better candidate than person B rather than just having that feeling because if it's a feeling good chance that that's coming from bias.

Tody Mildon: Yeah. One of the famous books around unconscious bias is thinking fast, thinking slow.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah.

Tody Mildon: By Daniel Kahneman. He talks about system one and system two thinking. And if you are going with your kind of intuition and your gut reaction, you're probably going with your system one thinking, which is rife with bias.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah. I mean, when there are times where decision making needs to be rapid, and quite often your gut feeling will steer you right about 80% of the time it's the operator principle, isn't it? Generally about 80% of the time that gut feeling will steer you in the right direction. But where there is time to really think about, and when you promoting somebody, let's say you're not gonna promote somebody on a whim, are you? There's gonna be lots of process to it.

Tody Mildon: Yeah.

Andy Nisevic: That's where you can really sit and analyze and think, right. What evidence have I got? Where have they shown that they're an expert in their current field? What leadership qualities have they shown? Where have they shown that they're able to listen to people, to hear other people and create an environment that everybody feels able to own their own voice, but also to grow and develop within the team. There's a lot more to leadership than just being good at your job.

Tody Mildon: Yeah. I like what you said about your intuition being true 80% of the time because in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, I do remember he tells a story about a firefighter in New York going into a burning building and the firefighter thought that the fire wasn't behaving in the way that it should behave.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah.

Tody Mildon: Everybody thought, or it was reported that the fire was coming from the kitchen, but his instinct was to tell his crew to get out of the building as soon as possible. And just as he did, the floor collapsed and the fire was coming from the basement.

Andy Nisevic: Wow.

Tody Mildon: And he was, I suppose in the words of Daniel Kahneman, he was using his system one thinking.

Andy Nisevic: Yeah.

Tody Mildon: You don't want to overthink those kind of situations. You probably do want to go with your hunches.

Andy Nisevic: No, I'm sure you sure you can use your imagination that there's been some instances in my career where I can sit down and have a committee to make a decision about something very much that, directive authoritarian style of leadership would just go and do it in a lot less diplomatic way. But sometimes that's needed when time is of essence and you don't just have to be in a military or a firefighter or a policeman to have that need.

Tody Mildon: Absolutely.

Andy Nisevic: But where the opportunity comes, ask yourself the questions. And that will help slow yourself down and significantly reduce your risk of acting in a way that other people would perceive as discriminate.

Tody Mildon: Yes. Slowing down is a really good tip because often we are prone to biases when we are working under pressure to type deadlines and we're under high cognitive load or stress, in other words. So it's easier said than done in some situations, but the ability to just slow down your thinking does help a lot. The penultimate question I ask everybody when they come on this podcast is, what does inclusive growth mean to you? 

Andy Nisevic: It's a great question. And you know what, since you emailed me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that this is a question, you emailed. I've tried to think of a really smart answer to give that's gonna make your audience go, "Yeah, good point. Well done." [laughter] You know what, I just love the give it a little kiss principle, keep it simple Sherlock. An inclusive growth just to me just means everybody knows something you don't. That's one of the core values of my business. Everybody knows something that I don't. So inclusivity just means that ability to hear perspectives, ideas, thoughts, opinions from anywhere. There's a great example I can give you of where great ideas can come from absolutely anywhere. So several years ago, I was a Combat Ready trainer in the Air Force. We were on exercise and the mission went completely wrong to... Anything that you could think of to go wrong. It went wrong.

Andy Nisevic: And all of the positions were filled by, trainees. They were qualified people, but trainees in the combat ready, side of things and all of the instructions, people similar to me, 20 ish years of experience doing the job and we're all doing what we're supposed to do, trying to draw the ideas of how to solve them. Trying to draw blood from a stone. And there was this young one lad who had been in the military 12 to 18 months, something like that. And little bit cocky, one of those good fun people. But yeah, just one of those just had a idiot type characters. I can't remember what he said, but he just piped up with an idea and just said, why don't we just do this? And it was something about the way that we share information around the op room and all of us instructors, I say easily 20 years average experience for each person.

Andy Nisevic: Our chins just hit the floor thinking in all the years we've been doing this, why have we never thought of this because it was so easy that one tiny little change, the next mission, everything went perfectly. And this was for somebody that nobody had a massive deal and respect for at the time. Everyone liked him, but he was one of these people that if there was ever any trouble, not necessarily a troublemaker, but one of the people involved. Nobody had a massive amount of respect for him as an operator, but his one idea just completely solved all the problems that we'd had.

Tody Mildon: That's brilliant. And as leaders, you were open to hearing that idea, which I think is also testament to inclusive leadership.

Andy Nisevic: Thank you.

Tody Mildon: So if the person listening to us right now wants to get in touch with you, maybe they want to pick your brains about leadership in their own organization, how should they do that? 

Andy Nisevic: LinkedIn is probably the easiest way. Fortunately my surname isn't that usual, isn't that common so Andy Nisevic N for November, I, S for Sierra, E-V-I-C and I'll give a you a link to, stick in the comments part for the, podcast. Connects with me on there. And, any questions you've got, I'm quite happy to, be challenged on anything that I've said, because everybody knows something I don't. And or to, just have some good, honest conversations. And if there's any help I can give anybody, I'll be delighted to.

Tody Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Andy, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to have a chat with me and share your knowledge with the person listening to us right now. We've covered a lot. We've talked about what biases are, where they come from, how they occur, what we could do about them, the risks of ignoring our implicit biases, the danger of ego as a leader, and the importance of practicing leadership with humility. So Andy, thanks ever so much for your, time today.

Andy Nisevic: My pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

Tody Mildon: And thank you for tuning into this episode of today's Inclusive Growth Podcast. Hopefully you've taken away some interesting information about implicit bias in the role that it has on our decision making and on creating inclusive cultures within your own organization. Like we say, if you do want any assistance with this, please do reach out to me and my team. Our website is www.mildon.co.uk. We would be happy to chat with you and also, connect with Andy on LinkedIn. He'll be very happy to take any questions that you have about leadership in your own organization. We have another episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast, which be coming up very soon. Until then, take good care of yourself. Cheers.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website @mildon.co.uk.