When you’re one of the few brown females in leadership, unconscious bias is something you encounter almost every day. While there will be instances you can brush, there will be circumstances you must confront head on.
There was a moment in my career that I remember like it was yesterday. I was in a packed elevator with a colleague after lunch, and he complained about having to smell like Indian food for the rest of the day. I heard a few chuckles in the elevator, and I suddenly felt very small. I didn’t want to let it go, but I also didn’t feel right embarrassing him in front of other people. I exited the elevator and met him in his office.
I let him know that his comments in the elevator didn’t make me feel good. I expressed that I was proud of my Indian heritage and that food is a major component of my identity. He stopped everything he was doing and looked up at me, completely mortified. He said he had no idea that his comments were hurtful, and he apologized. It was important to point out his behavior so he would be more conscious and aware in the future. That moment gave me a road map to approaching unconscious bias.
See something, say something
When you decide you’ve encountered a situation that requires action, you’ll want to stand up for yourself without putting your safety at risk. Address things at the source. I have found a one-to-one approach is highly effective, and it builds a sense of trust and mutual respect.
Assume positive intent
Oftentimes, when I’ve coached people about their blind spots, they didn’t realize the impact of their behavior. Knowing that people don’t mean to be hurtful can shorten the gap between you, making it much more possible to create an ally out of the perpetrator.
Early on in my career, I didn’t have the chops to address conflict. I was taught to keep my head down, excel at my job, and avoid making waves. But over time, as my confidence grew, so did my ability to effectively use my voice and garner respect from others.
Business strategist and career architect Amita Mehta is the CEO of AMP Consulting.