Creating An Inclusive Company: Challenging Our Biases

Last summer, we embarked on an intentional journey to make Presence a more equitable, diverse and inclusive company.

We started discussing everything. From how our users interact with our software, to how we choose to educate ourselves about the community around us. Spurred by harrowing events in our community, and our desire to foster an inclusive company culture, we’re moving forward with a comprehensive plan to equip our team with the resources to be change agents in our company and in the higher education industry.

Our last inclusion update came after our Privilege and LGBT Safe Zone Training where our team came together with consultant and educator Saby Labor, founder of Resilient Campus.

We’re excited to keep sharing our resources, tools, and insights with you, along with sharing our journey of critical reflection.

Implementing An Implicit Bias Training

We all have biases – learned behaviors that are often subconscious.

We may associate genders to specific activities, for example, some of us associate men as hard workers and women as home-makers.

Implicit bias shows up in many ways, even with people who feel they are the most well-intentioned or inclusive. For example, bias can influence how we look at resumes. There have been women in the workplace who feel they advocate and support women during the interview process, however, rate a man’s resume as more-qualified than the exact same resume replaced with a woman’s name.

So what are we to do?

Last month, Lindsay Murdock, one of our Inclusion Strategists at Presence, decided to host a tailored implicit bias training for our Presence team members to understand biases and how it may show up in our work.

The training served as a foundation to continue conversations around bias in the workplace and how we’ve evolved to have cognitive shortcuts (also known as heuristics) meaning we often survive by relying on unconscious assumptions in our lives. We realize our biases directly impact our recruiting, on-boarding, hiring and retention practices, as well as how we interact with each other, our software, and the community at-large.

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Before the training, we learned about the dichotomy of our unconscious and conscious mind by taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test: a test that determines automatic associations, similar to the man and woman example we provided above.

We were reminded by Lindsay that we’re not alone in our associations. Most people have unconscious associations and knowing this, we can start to have honest conversations in our workplace and industry about how they show up.

Throughout the training, we engaged in discussions and provided specific examples about how biases can show up in our work as a software company in higher education. We also shared experiences around bias in individual’s personal lives, the media, and in past workplace environments.

At the end of our training, we were able to highlight actionable steps we can each take to notice our own individual biases. Our outcome of the training was to empower our team to think independently about the topic and increase their awareness and knowledge in the area of implicit bias.

Here is the implicit bias presentation Lindsay put together for our team:

We aim to be intentional about feedback and how our team’s learning changed around inclusion initiatives.

Overall, we found that our team seemed receptive to the implicit bias training and learned a lot about how it can show up in the workplace. This quote sums up a great reflection of one of our teammates experience:

I believe implicit bias impacts every aspect of our lives and beings and thus plays a major role in how we conduct ourselves and interact in the workplace. Our biases frame how we speak with coworkers and clients, how we structure our time, perceptions of others and how they fit into our everyday and our growth. It also affects the functioning of the workplace as a whole in regards to hiring and retention of both clients and employees.

100% of our team mentioned the training would impact their future work behavior. Our team members explained:

Yes, trainings help me feel more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with the team and also open up my world to alternate perspectives. Also, the training has made me more aware of implicit biases specifically in hiring processes.

I hope that it will. My aim is to be self-aware and reflective more and more. I want to catch myself when I get caught in my biases, I want to challenge them, and I hope others help me.

Yes, really opened my eyes to how I should act outside of work and that we all need to take the steps to change what we say or do to make the world a better place.

Overall, it seemed our team is comfortable moving forward in having conversations with each other and, as demonstrated above, we made progress in that arena with our training. Even further, our team is starting to look to each other for help, guidance and accountability as we seek to improve.

The majority of our team felt this training was important to discuss. A few of our team members explained they thought the training was better suited for leadership, specifically those leaders focused on recruiting and hiring. The feedback we obtained about the training was helpful as we plan future trainings and practices for the company.

When we ask if it’s important to debrief and discuss as a group, here’s what our team had to say:

It elevates everyone’s awareness Even if it’s difficult for some to relate to, or even accept, beginning the conversation with discourse is only way help someone consider another perspective or even shift their own.

I think it built some more trust and understanding that hasn’t always been there. Calling people out in a respectable way… We can chat casually and feel comfortable, not judging the person for their opinions, rather, helping them increase their education on a specific topic.

Yes, definitely. It’s important because we are all at different levels in terms of diversity and inclusion understanding, so having open conversations to address issues and make us all more aware is key to growing a strong and open company culture.

Yes, I think the more difficult conversations and vulnerable topics that we broach together makes us stronger and understand ourselves better. I think we need to work on a way of developing ground rules based in civility so we can focus on growth and support and not run into any attitudes that may be dividing.

Lindsay, our fearless leader, reflects:

I’m always so grateful for our incredible team as they participate openly and vulnerably in our team trainings and discussions. They always give me [and our team] open and honest feedback about EDI initiatives, providing us additional tools to reflect and engage.

Here’s to reflecting and assessing our team’s growth!

What’s Next For Us?

Here are some small ‘wins’ we’ve recently celebrated and next steps we’re planning with the Presence team.

Expanding Our Networks

We (Lindsay and I) attended a local Inclusion and Diversity panel as part of Tampa Bay’s Startup Week. We met local tech leaders and were energized after hearing that we weren’t alone in our efforts. A fellow tech educator and coding school, The Iron Yard of Tampa Bay, is working to build a comprehensive network of women and people of color in tech. We’re excited to partner with them in building a strong tech ecosystem and expand that pipeline.

Partnering with a Diversity Consultant

We’re excited to keep working with Saby Labor, as mentioned, to guide us as company Inclusion Strategists and weave values of inclusion and diversity into our foundation. Saby’s inquisitive nature allows her to delve deeper into the surface of our challenges, identifying root causes, and providing insightful feedback to build consensus. Saby’s higher education and consulting experiences have aided us to analyze company feedback surveys more in-depth, create detailed training plans, and help us update company policies to reflect our value of inclusivity.

Tracking ‘Small Wins’

We’ve been keep track of small wins, or small ways we’ve made our company more inclusive and small changes we’ve made across the board that snowball into substantive change for our team. From doubling the number of women on our team this year, having a large amount of our most popular blog posts of 2016 be centered around inclusion, and we’re finding our EDI work extends beyond the confines of our company and helps others to move conversations forward in their respective work environments.

Making EDI Work Sustainable

Our inclusion team has grown into more of a committee. We were excited to have Alex, Jacob, and A.J. become active change agents at Presence to help to weave EDI work into the foundation of Presence. We’re hoping to continue to add to our inclusion toolkit to effectively document our steps and more readily share activities, knowledge, and resources in the future.

Your Thoughts!

Have you thought about training your student affairs team on implicit bias? In what ways have you thought about how implicit bias shows up in your work?

We’d love to hear from you! Tweet us at @HelloPresence.


Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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