Have you been impacted by someone’s bias or privilege? Was it intentional or was it done unconsciously? Do people get advantages because of privilege? If you really looked in the mirror, would you find any biases within yourself? Today’s enlightening conversation will make you think differently about first impressions, the concept of privilege and biases. Host, Mike Domitrz, welcomes special guest, Diversity and Inclusion expert, Lenora Billings-Harris to discuss the basis of bias, becoming aware of unconscious biases, and the importance of inclusion.
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[2:05] Lenora Billings-Harris shares her mission.
[4:11] Unconscious bias is neither positive or negative.
[8:29] Overcoming biases that are reflective of prejudices and stereotypes.
[18:42] Biases formed in childhood may still exist in adulthood.
[26:29] Applying mindfulness every day.
Welcome to the Everyday Mindfulness Show, the off-the-cuff exploration of everyday a-ha moments and life experiences. Join a cast of over 70 uniquely brilliant individuals. Each week, Mike Domitrz and an eclectic mix of cast members and special guests will engage in mindful and lively conversations about everything from meditation to spirituality, to personal passions, to successes and failures, to relationships, to the stuff that makes up the moments of our daily lives. Let’s get started with your host, author, speaker, provocateur, and a bit of a goofball, Mike Domitrz.
This week’s episode is sponsored by the book Can I Kiss You and the Instructor’s Guide of Can I Kiss You. For many listeners know, this is the book that I wrote, last year came out. We were thrilled because it went number one on Amazon for teen and young adult dating, and it is filled, just packed, with how-to skill sets for anyone to read of any age. We used to have a certain age group and people said, “Will you stop doing that? I have a middle schooler that I want to read this book,” or “I’m 45, single. I need to read this book,” and we’ve had people that are married going, “It’s helped change my relationship,” and that’s why we’re excited this is this week’s sponsor, the Can I Kiss You Book, and if you’re a teacher, the instructor’s guide.
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Hi, yes, I’m your host Mike Domitrz and thrilled to be here with a very special individual today for a one-on-one on the Everyday Mindfulness Show. This week’s special guest is Lenora Billings-Harris and you’re going to find out all about her. She’s amazing. She’s incredible, and remember and maybe you’re watching this show online. You’re like, “Hey, how do I find out more right now,” you can find all the links on our website at everydaymindfulnessshow.com. That’s everydaymindfulnessshow.com, but we’re going to get right into this.
Lenora, if you could let everybody know a little bit about yourself, what you do in the world, what’s your unique ability and mission that you’re sharing out there.
Yes, well, I am so thrilled to be on your show because although my area of focus technically is diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias, it actually has to do with mindfulness, and so what I really do is work with organizations that are serious about really grabbing diversity of thought. I mean, ultimately, the things that people do or the things that organizations do as it relates to diversity and inclusion has nothing to do with five of these and six of those and 12 of those. It really has to do with getting the right people on the team and then utilizing those right people so that they can give their best thought to be more innovative, to solve problems faster, obviously, to make more money for the company when it’s for-profit.
Through the kinds of things that I do, I help people discover, first of all, that we all have bias. It’s a normal thing, so they can get past feeling guilty that they had some biased thought, and then I help them understand physically where our biases come from, what the neuroscience is behind it so that, again, they can see it’s not having anything to do with government regulations and all that kind of thing. Then we have some fun uncovering unconscious biases that most people don’t think about that show up in the workplace or show up in the community. That’s what keeps me busy. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years.
That’s awesome, and for everyone listening and watching, I know Lenora because we’re both in the National Speakers Association and Lenora, let’s just call it, a legend, there’s no doubt about it, in the industry. Just an incredible individual, a former past president of the organization and been just remarkable in so many way. Your spirit is always so present whether you’re in a room or you’re on a stage, you just have a sense of mindfulness about you that just flows, and it’s neat to be around. It’s calming, yet energizing. A big piece of what you do ties in so well with mindfulness, which is why we wanted to have you on also, is that unconscious bias can really influence how we think we’re being mindful versus the reality of maybe we’re not being so mindful because of these biases that we’re bringing to the table. How do you best explain how that influences one’s mindfulness in the world?
Well, first of all, as I said a minute ago, is everybody has bias, so the first part to understand is that bias is not positive or negative. It’s neutral, until you actually take action on it, but what gets in the way of being more mindful, being more focused on whatever it is you’re doing or whomever it is you’re interacting with, is to first recognize that you have to get rid of the noise. All of us multitask and we think we’re good at multitasking, but the neuroscience indicates that we really are not good at it, and we really need to focus.
So, for instance, something as simple as listening to a person when they say their name so that you can say their name back and say it correctly has to do with our need to jump in to say something back and say something based on what we think that person is about, just based on whatever our background is, instead of taking a breath and slowing down our brain processes so that we can be in what’s called the prefrontal neocortex. That’s the part of our brain where we can be more analytical, where we can really think more, instead of the emotional part of our brain, which is where our biases are.
I share with people what are some of those things in our everyday life that we have biases about so that the next time they encounter those situations, they can use some techniques so that they can not place that bias on a person. For instance, tall men tend to have advantages that other men don’t. Same thing for tall women to a degree, but in the U.S., men who are six feet tall or over, over a 30-year period make $166,000 more than a man who is 5’5″ or shorter, and that doesn’t count compound interest. I hope people understand, it’s not because necessarily they’re any smarter, I’m not saying that they’re not smart, but to help people to recognize those types of things so that they understand that comes from a neuroconnector from a long time ago during caveman times where we thought the tall guy would protect the tribe, because he could see danger from a long distance, but we still look at tall man and think they’re going to protect us, and unconsciously give them advantages that other people don’t.
How that has to connect again with mindfulness is, once you know about some of these unconscious biases, then the next time you’re interacting in a team or making talent management decisions, you can ask yourself, am I comfortable with this person because they’re really good at what they do or is because of how they look? They look good in a blue suit and they’re tall, and many other things, that’s just an example. But I help people see in a fun way, oh, gosh, I heard this person, but I didn’t really hear them, or I was giving them credit because of their accent, for instance, or how tall they are, and then we go into some strategies with helping people really analyze the processes within their own organization where there are built-in biases that cause them to not be so mindful in their decision-making.
And we see it on stage, and in my line of work, for instance, speaking on sexual issues, as a man on stage, people go, “Oh, isn’t that nice. It’s a man talking,” and there’s this other level of credibility that’s ridiculous. It’s purely based on gender and other things can contribute to that. The fact that I would be considered tall, that I have a certain frame about myself, and that’s not big and muscular frame, but it’s just even the thin frame, and the biases that creates in audiences that people don’t want to acknowledge. The audience member doesn’t want to acknowledge they’re doing that, because then they think, “Well, I’m being prejudiced or biased and that’s bad,” like you said, they think it’s bad, and so we get into these battles over the word privilege, and people get very upset over the word privilege and really what you’re saying is these are all unconscious biases, these-
… these privileges. So how do you address that? You’re clearly going, “Yep,” with the privilege. It’s a hot issue, more than unconscious bias. That seems like a safe thing to say, we have unconscious biases. But you say someone has privilege and people, “I do not have privilege.” Is there a significant difference in those terms or are they very close and there’s some small differences?
Well, there are differences in that first, people have to understand that unconscious bias is a process in our brain that happens whether we want it to or not, and privilege comes from recognizing all of who you are, because we don’t see the world the way it is. We see the world the way we are and that’s not good, bad, right or wrong. So, for instance, I was born in Newark, New Jersey, so I’m a northeasterner even though I live in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I know there are biases towards people from the northeast, and there are biases about people that live in the south.
Now, when we move that then to privilege, so people have to first understand bias and unconscious bias, and then when we talk about privilege, the way I frame it and other experts frame it is, we call them micro-advantages and micro-disadvantages. So, a micro-advantage for me, for example, is that I’m 5’9″ so that’s … well, shrinking as I get older, but trying to hang on to that last inch.
We all are. We all are.
But as a 5’9″ woman, I didn’t realize the privilege that I had when I was in the workplace that maybe sometimes I was getting opportunities because I spoke well and I was tall and that created comfort with people that I worked with, because I usually, quite honestly, was the only black person working in my department or the first black person to have whatever the position was that I had, but the bias of being tall and well-spoken or articulate, as some people would say, was an advantage for me, and that came about from my background.
Now, obviously, it had nothing to do with how tall I am, but my grandfather and grandmother who raised me for several years when I was young, instilled in me to speak correct English. Not that I’m perfect with it, but they wouldn’t let me develop a New Jersey accent, and they wouldn’t let me use slang terms, so that has advanced my career, but let’s switch it. What I realized after I started learning more about unconscious bias, because although I’ve been doing work in the space of diversity and inclusion for almost 30 years, we’ve really only had the research, the neuroscience research for about the last 15, and so when I started understanding how bias and unconscious bias works, I realized oh my gosh, I have a bias about grammar. I was judging other people based on how they talk.
One of the things I share with my audience is … because I try to be vulnerable to them, to help them know just because I’ve been doing this a long time and other people see me as a pioneer in this area, that I am still learning and I’m a human being like anyone else, so I have biases just like anyone else, but I would share with them that my last corporate position as a leader, I am sure that I probably created a barrier for some people and they didn’t get hired or didn’t get placed in certain jobs because of my bias regarding how they spoke, and maybe the way they spoke would have had nothing to do with the quality of what was needed in that job.
So, it’s really about allowing yourself to forgive yourself first, that you have bias, get over it, and then be introspective. Be reflective. Pay more attention to how quickly you jump to conclusions because we don’t argue with our own data, so when you shake someone’s hand, for instance, if they give you a what I call a dead fish handshake, we jump to all kinds of conclusions. Oh, that person is weak, and they’re not confident and they’re not going to be a good leader. Well, guess what? It’s only a handshake. It is not not a good leader or not confident. That’s the conclusion we jump to because of our bias, which comes from our background. We’ve been taught in the U.S. you should have a firm handshake.
So, I help people see those things, have fun with it, realize that, yep, we all do those kinds of things, and then set the stage for them to know how to look at some of those biases that are more closely related to prejudice and stereotypes. They don’t have to bare their soul in a workshop, but they know some questions to ask themselves, like, what triggers me? What causes me to feel comfortable or uncomfortable with someone and where did that come from? Did it come from direct experience with someone or did it come from lack of experience with someone who looks like that person or was I impacted because of what I see in the media, in movies and that kind of thing?
So, yet again, they can say, “Oh, okay. That’s where it came from, and maybe it was useful way back then, but it’s not useful now, and what can I do to include that person, to bring them in to the conversation instead of making assumptions about them.”
And I think language is a great example to jump off the board on this with, because for years business success discussions were always about never to swear and that these were signs of a lack of intelligence and many of us were raised this way. You can choose other words, and then you have a bias when somebody gets in front of you and swears and you’re like, “Well, that wasn’t very smart,” and they’re brilliant people who are, interestingly enough, being more authentic, because they’re just like, “I’m just being me. I’m just saying what I’m saying.” And they’re not being rude. They’re not being disrespectful. They’re not degrading other people. It’s the word choice they’re using in that sentence, but it’s not directed at someone to do harm.
And yet, we go, “Oh, how could they?” And our own industry does this in the speaking world. A lot of people do it and I’m like, it’s so strange … and I had the bias for a long time and now being able to have that vulnerability and go what was I thinking? But you look back and you go, “Oh, that’s what somebody taught me.”
Yes. That’s the world.
Your parents taught you. Right. Your parents taught you. And so we’re taught this, right? Same thing, my parents taught that and yet, you go, “Wow, what am I doing?” What’s interesting is, we also do it in our relationships at home. Like you were saying, we start to jump ahead of what they’re going to answer because we have a bias of where this conversation is going and when I talk to, doing training on this topic of helping people be more themselves in front a room, when we’re working with the military and doing training, we talk about this all the time, that if you’re not listening to the person who you think is heckling you, they’re going to eat you alive, because the moment you aren‘t listening and you respond to something they said in the first 30 seconds of their response but they kept talking for 30 more seconds, and their response changed in the last 30 seconds, they’re firing back at you, going, “That’s not what I said. That’s not what I said,” and you don’t know what they said, because you stopped listening-
And spouses, we can be the worst and I don’t mean my spouse, I mean me, can be the worst at this, and having to constantly catch myself, and I never thought of it as a bias. I thought of it as saving time, like I got it, right? But it comes off as arrogant, that you think you know what I’m going to say, and it is a bias, that I think I know what you’re going to say. So, I think it’s interesting listening to think where do I this? Where do I jump ahead in my mind when talking to anybody about anything? It doesn’t have to be your spouse. It could be work-related. Where am I jumping ahead, going, “I got it. I got it,” before the sentence is done, before another two minutes is done?
Yes. Well, it’s interesting you bring that one up because I know when I am stressed for time that if I’m on a Zoom call or even face-to-face with someone and I know we have to finish this by a certain time, that I have a tendency to interrupt, which can be seen as very rude, and so I’m much more of aware of it now. I’m more mindful of it, so, hopefully, I don’t do it as much. However, when somebody’s talking and I think, “Okay, I got that part. Now we got to go to the next thing ’cause we’ve got 15 things on the agenda,” and I realize that that comes across as being disrespectful to some people.
But you have be aware of it first. That’s the first step, and it was interesting you brought up the whole idea around cursing because one of my clients who I’m doing a great deal of work with them all over the country, and they are an advertising firm, and they do tend to curse a lot more than your typical corporate client, and every time someone does, it catches me for a second, but I realize that my bias is you’re not supposed to do that, so I can move on. I don’t miss what they’re saying. It’s like, “Oops, yep, they did that,” and now move on because, to your point, they’re just expressing the way they want to express.
So many organizations have all the right words on their websites about how important their people are and how much they create an environment where you can be authentically who you are and you can show up 100 percent and then when they do bias and unconscious bias work and being more mindful, they realize, “Oh. We do an awful lot of things that say it’s not okay to be certain ways, to act certain ways, to look certain ways,” and then they wonder why they’re not getting 100 percent from some people or why the people come on board but then it’s a revolving door and they leave because they didn’t feel included.
One of the things, and I’m sure you probably know this because of the work you’re doing with mindfulness, is that what researchers are saying is that Maslow was almost right. Maslow said in the 40’s that our most basic need was food and water and then shelter and then belonging, and now what researchers are discovering through their neuroscience as well more psychological study, is that belonging is the most basic need for human beings, our need to connect with one another.
So, when we have those micro-messages, those little things that say you’re not okay, what they have discovered is our brain interprets those exclusive behaviors, those behaviors that push us away, that our brain equates that to physical pain. When you think of the fact that you say something off the cuff, or you interrupt someone, that’s like physical pain in the brain of that person. I was with a client yesterday and they were doing an exercise to think about something from their background that shapes how they see the world today. One woman shared that she just can’t handle being around anyone at work that yells.
Now, most of us would think yelling in the workplace is not okay, but many of us it doesn’t bother us one way or the other. If you’re one of six kids and you grew up with everybody yelling to get a word in, it’s like no big deal. What she said was that, as she thought about it, and it was an epiphany for her, because she didn’t know why it bothered her until we had gone through this exercise, and she realized that it came from when she was a little girl. Her parents had divorced, but before then they yelled and screamed at each other all the time when she was small. So, think of the impact that has on kids and how they either think it’s totally okay or not and how they might interpret, well, if adults are yelling with each other, they’re going to split up or something really bad is going to happen.
So, when you go through the exercise of figuring out where some of these thoughts have come from in our background, then we’re better able to understand why we have those thoughts in the first place, and then we can mitigate it. We really can’t totally get rid of our biases, but when we become more aware of them, then we can behave in a different way.
Well, and I think if you’re a parent out there right now, it’d be interesting to ask yourself how many biases have you taught your children and can you now go back and reverse engineer those biases to acknowledge to them … For instance, if you said, “When someone’s swearing, they’re not using intelligent language,” to go back and go, “Well, that was foolish. What I said was foolish. I had a bias and I put that bias on you. Now, to degrade another human being is a different conversation, but to use language that I would not use does not mean it’s not proper for you to use it and to be your voice.”
I think that’s one people struggle with is, “Well, I wouldn’t swear.” Well, I can say to myself I would rarely use that language in my own life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be perfectly okay with everyone around me using it without me thinking I need to use it. Like you said, it’s not a good or bad, it’s okay.
And then it gets more complicated in the workplace when you add gender bias, so if you’re in a workplace where there are lots of men, not that many women, and the guys do curse, then sometimes women feel that they have to act more like guys and curse like them in order to fit in, and it doesn’t work. They’re trying to figure out, okay, what is the right behavior to fit in here, rather than both men and women recognizing that we actually are different and that’s a good thing that we’re different, how we interpret messages so differently and look at all of these rules that we have in our head on how it is we’re supposed to be.
I think a perfect example of a message that parents gave their kids a long time ago, and I’m so thrilled to hear that younger parents … I’m an older Baby Boomer, so parents that are younger Gen Xers and some of the older Millennials now that are starting to have kids. In my generation, when I was a child, my grandparents always told me to eat all your food. Clean your plate. Well, no wonder the United States has so many overweight people, because we have that voice in our head that says we’re not supposed to waste. Now, we know we’re not supposed to waste, but the way we interpret that into behavior is that means eat all this food, even if it’s not going to be good for me. Even though I paid for it and it’s not healthy, but we still eat it and I’m pleased to see that more parents are not giving their kids that message anymore.
Yeah, I agree with you 100 percent, because it used to be, you’re right, your eyes are bigger than your stomach and now you’re going to eat that, that type of thing. So, there are people on the other end of the world … Okay, that’s true. There are people on the other end of the world starving, but there’s people starving down the street also. It doesn’t change me eating this meal. It has no impact on it whatsoever. But they were taught that by a bias that was given to them and that’s, I think, important for people to think about.
What you don’t want to do in this process is blame the past person who taught you the bias because that’s not going to help. Understand it. Say, “Where did that come from?” Which I think you brilliantly explained, without shaming, like, how dare they teach me that, because somebody taught them that.
Yeah. And it made sense to them at that time.
Yeah. And we believed it, too. It made sense to us, so how we dare we shame them for something that made sense to us, too? It’s contradictory. What are other major ones that in everyday life, that are ones people can think about?
So, one that is pervasive and, by the way, the height bias is not just in the U.S. It’s worldwide. The height number changes, six feet versus whatever’s considered tall in another country, but another one that is pervasive is accent and our brains are lazy. The primary function of our brain is to keep us alive and keep us safe, so our brain doesn’t really want to work hard enough to listen to an accent different than our own and what happens then is when we are not mindful, when we are not paying attention, when we listen to someone whose accent is very different than our own, we have a tendency to think that person is not trustworthy, and our brains shut down because we stop listening.
To your point earlier, when you hear the first part of a heckler, but you don’t pay attention to the second part, that happens similarly when you’re listening to someone with an accent. So, we make up all kinds of things about them, like the north/south accent bias. I just got back from London and certainly within England there is a bias about British English. Now, the one accent worldwide that people will think you are trustworthy is British English because the British Empire touched every continent except Antarctica.
When it’s brought to our awareness, then people are realizing, “Oh, right. I was judging this person, thinking they couldn’t handle certain opportunities or certain jobs because of how they speak, when really it was they are brilliant, but I just wasn’t listening to them,” and then you add it to the fact that we don’t want to offend other people and so we think that the best thing to do is to not ask them to repeat or to slow down, when in fact that‘s what we need to do so that we could really hear and that says to the person, “I am really focused on what you’re saying right now and I really want to understand it.”
So, once again, it’s about slowing down, taking a breath, getting that oxygen in our brain so that the protein and glucose in the analytical and focus part of our brain will kick in.
Now, you’re talking right there about that slowing down, taking a breath. How do you apply mindfulness to your everyday life? You’re also on the road a lot. You and I were just talking before the show that you’re … just got back from England, going back to England. How are you applying that to whether it be a day where you had to get up super early in the morning or a day where you get to sleep in, how do you apply that everyday mindfulness?
Well, a couple of things, and this is always a work in progress. I’m not always doing it as much as I would like to, but I will meditate. I have a program that you can find in the app store. It’s called Morning Cup of Yoga. Cup of Yoga. That’s what it’s called. Cup of Yoga.
We’ll find it and put it in the links, also, in the show notes.
And it’s 15 minutes, and it’s really more stretching, so you’re not having to get on the floor to do any yoga positions. I find that when I do that, I am so much more centered. So, I attempt every day to start … before I listen to all the crazy news and that type of thing, that I will read something inspirational, and then I will do my Cup of Yoga, and depending on how much time I have, then I’ll work out.
One of the things that I’ve started doing, learned this from a colleague of mine who just bought one of those walking desks, so it’s a treadmill and there’s a desk on it, and I said, “Well, how do you do the work and you’re trying to run at the same time?” And so we talked about what speed to put the treadmill at, and I have a treadmill, not a walking desk. So, I’ll get on the treadmill and I’ll go fast. I really walk more than I run, but I’ll walk at a good pace, but then I’ll slow down and that’s when I can read email. I’ll be doing it slow enough so that I can type on my phone or that kind of thing, so getting that exercise really helps, especially when my schedule is very hectic because with the travel and sitting in airplane seats that are not always comfortable and you don’t have enough room, I’m always concerned about making sure I don’t get a backache from standing for a long time with my client, if I’m delivering a workshop as opposed to a keynote in particular, or if I’m going on long trips.
Then the other is listening to some music. I love the theater and so I listen to show tunes and fun things that are upbeat like Wicked and The Wizard of Oz and things like that.
Very cool. That’s awesome. Is there a certain book that you have found, or two books, that you have found really helped you on your path on mindfulness and awareness?
Oh, gosh. Let’s let me look it up. I happen to have my phone here. One of them is, it’s … I don’t remember the title of it, so I have to look it up right now. It’s got an inspirational thought each day and it’s 365 Science of Mind: A Year of Daily Wisdom, and Science of Mind, a lot of people are not familiar with it. It’s not Scientology. It’s totally different from that. It talks about ways to see things in a different way, to be more kind, to be more civil, to recognize that we are all on this planet together and, as you know because of our connection through NSA, the foundation of my business is from a proverb called, the one word proverb is Ubuntu, which means I am because we are, we are because I am, so really that’s the foundation of my work is to help people recognize that all of us are connected without saying it that way, because I know that that won’t necessarily resonate with some people.
There’s another book that a colleague of ours just wrote. I think it just came out in the latter part of August, called Good Enough Now-
Oh, yeah, that’s Jess.
… by Jessica Pettitt. I love it. It’s just a reminder of we don’t have to keep comparing ourselves to other people. We can’t totally not do that, but the more we can get centered in our day to realize that I am enough right now and whatever I’m experiencing in this day, hopefully I’m going to learn something from it, or even if it’s not as heavy as okay, I gotta learn something every day, I’m going to be comfortable with it. I won’t be needing to judge other people about it, whatever it is, and to realize that when it’s something negative, I do have to keep reminding myself, this too shall pass. There’s going to be another day. It’s so much, though, about breathing and breath to help us slow down, because when we get tense, we don’t breathe deeply and that’s part of the problem, I think.
I want to thank you so much for sharing you, your brilliance, your soul with us. It’s been wonderful. For anybody watching right now or listening to the show right now and thinking, “Hey, how do I find Lenora?” Well, everything is at our website, as always, everydaymindfulnessshow.com. Thank you, Lenora. For everyone listening right now, remember you can subscribe to the show, leave a review on iTunes and between now and next week’s show, may you live a life of everyday mindfulness.
Thanks so much, Mike.
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Mentioned in This Episode:
Diversity and Inclusion is a full-time focus, not just one topic among many for Lenora Billings-Harris. Whether through keynotes, workshops, or organizational consulting, Lenora partners with clients to help them build effective relationships that leverage diversity to increase inclusion, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and bottom-line results.
Billings-Harris is a recognized authority. She has been included as one of the 100 Global Thought Leaders on Diversity and Inclusion by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and was named by Diversity Woman Magazine as one of the twenty top influential diversity leaders in the US. Her Award-winning diversity leadership research is recognized in academic journals internationally. Lenora recently keynoted at the Inclusion Conferences in Cape Town, South Africa and in Tel Aviv, Israel, to share best practices with leaders within the business, government, education, and NGO communities.
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