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March
22, 2021

7 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

After Meghan Markle's recent, lively interview with Oprah Winfrey, opinions on social media couldn't have been more different. Some had empathy for Markle, while others called the conversation a "publicity stunt". In both cases, some blind spots in our society regarding race and gender have been highlighted, reflecting what many women are feeling in the economy today.

The same is true of the Lean In organization's recently released 50 Ways To Fight Bias report, which features dozen of specific examples of workplace bias, as well as situational solutions that help modern businesses engage in today's tough talk about discrimination.

As Markle's interview and the Lean In data point out, bias can be a sensitive issue as no one wants to openly admit that they are prejudiced. However, there are four key ways to combat inclusivity in the workplace once and for all.

Related: Why Do Venture Capitalists Still Fund Mainly White Male Entrepreneurs?

1. Realize that your intent may not match someone else's experience

Before leaving Corporate America, I worked for a law firm in New York City in an office with my manager, who played the same Norah Jones album at her desk every day. One day I asked her if I could play music at my desk and she replied, "Sure, make sure it's not gangster rap!" She said it openly for others to hear, and the sound of silence filled the air as everyone was paid off in a hurry. I thought her response was tough and very dangerous, but who can you share your concern with when you're the only black woman in the entire company?

While I don't believe my manager did any harm, my experience made me feel more alienated than included. This also underscores that in any cultural conversation about inclusion, most companies miss the mark.

As described in 50 Ways to Fight Bias, "these perceptions, correct or not, can contribute to a workplace where black employees feel they don't belong." This continues to be typical of the everyday experiences women have with color. And too often, colleagues, business partners and employees remain silent when they show dismissive undertones or behavior.

You may not have intended to offend someone, but when they say something, take a moment to let yourself and others know about empathy and tone.

2. Distinguish prejudice from blind spots

As Markle shared her experience, it occurred to me the importance of distinguishing between a bias and a blind spot. Prejudices are very formal and reflect socialized or stereotypical beliefs about gender, culture, or race, such as: B. "Women are emotional" or "All black women are angry".

A blind spot, on the other hand, may not reflect your personal beliefs, but it can reinforce hurtful prejudices – especially if you avoid speaking for others who feel marginalized in the workplace. If a hint about my Caribbean accent appears in the conversation, comments like "I have a friend from your country. Do you know him?" or "You must listen to Bob Marley a lot!" Lean In's research shows that these types of blind spots "may contribute to depression and anxiety in American-born blacks," although they may not be malicious.

Women are often marginalized at work, but if you add race, ethnicity, or culture to the conversation, you will find that there are very few allies in the workplace who are brave enough to stand up for others outside of their group . As a result, there are missed opportunities to explore conversations that go beyond the same general discussion points on inclusion. That's why I often ask companies I work with if it is sincere or just for looks when they talk about inclusion.

3. Recognize mental illness and trauma

As a black woman, I have shared countless experiences when I was told I was "exaggerated" or "too sensitive" in contrast to my other colleagues who were "depressed", "overwhelmed", "struggling with fear" or "struggling "were considered mentally ill."

The most emotional part of Markle's interview was listening to her share her struggles with mental illness and how her concerns were ignored. I've worked in companies where women harmed themselves because they couldn't get the medical care they needed to address some of the emotional trauma they were experiencing. And in this time of public division and traumatic loss, what feels “sensitive” to one person can be overwhelming to another.

Today's workplace needs to eliminate this discrepancy. Developing hostile attitudes or policies towards discussions about the effects of slavery, postpartum depression, or the events surrounding George Floyd's death on the generations can be extremely detrimental. Even more so when workers feel lost in grief and yet are expected to remain productive. In order for today's jobs to fully include women or minorities, they cannot arbitrarily judge the value of mental suffering.

4. Review of women's voices

I recently shared an experience on TikTok about a time when I was feeling uncomfortable in a business meeting with a man. I expressed my concern directly to him and although he apologized, his behavior continued. I spent more time focusing his attention on the purpose of our meeting, the agenda, and my limited time, which had a direct impact on my performance. I shared my experience with another well-respected investor who said, "Ah, he was probably just kidding." It was an instant invalidation of my feelings, but unfortunately this behavior continues to normalize.

Women are often classified as victims, which became clear after Markle's interview. Some of the derogatory comments from highly respected journalists and even well-known celebrities described them as "victims" and "privileged". This type of perspective makes it difficult for women to express themselves on other topics such as sexual harassment, bullying, racism, and other unfair biases about gender while at work.

Women need a lot of strength to find the courage to express themselves. Again, it may be fun for you, but not a laughing matter for you. Issues like sexual harassment, beauty standards, and body dysmorphism are real challenges for women. If either of us expresses some level of displeasure about a colleague's actions, listen with empathy and create a plan of action.

See also: Minority founders are still severely underfunded, new report results

When a woman finally finds the strength and courage to share her experience, use empathy, not judgment. There are many women, as well as people of skin color and from other traditionally oppressed groups, who are trying to find the courage to speak about their own experiences at work but are traumatized by fear of retaliation. When inclusion and inclusion policies become buzzwords rather than enforceable policies, there are real consequences.

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