At Credera, we recognize that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are essential components for building an egalitarian workplace. It is important to recognize our biases and make conscious decisions to create inclusive spaces and prevent discrimination. However, no one is perfect, and we will make mistakes.
Mistakes can be our greatest learning opportunities and help us become thoughtful people with a better understanding of DE&I. In this blog post, we’ll share learning experiences from our own Credera co-workers and how their mistakes led to actions that made them stronger, inclusive leaders.
Becoming a better ally
In our first story, we’ll explore how to become a better ally. Actively listening to others share their stories is the first step in learning about other cultures and identities. Gaining these new perspectives will allow you to learn from past mistakes and allow others to be comfortable with you as their ally.
Bobby Pennington, Principal
In 2018, one of my coworkers shared an article on Facebook titled “A letter to Asian girls.” In the caption, she said she had “never read a piece that so cathartically and poignantly articulated [her] life, specifically as an Asian-American woman and daughter of immigrants.” We had become close friends while working together at Credera, so I was quick to read the article that spoke to her so intimately.
The more I read, the more my heart was broken. The author, Caroline Wang, described her experience as a Chinese-Australian woman growing up in Melbourne. She detailed gut-wrenching stories of racism, assault, western beauty standards, and the impact these moments had on her and her family. By 15 years old, she said, “I wanted nothing to do with my race. I went to bed every night wishing I could just wake up white. I hated my parents because my life would have been so much easier if they weren’t Chinese—if I hadn’t been born Chinese. I stopped speaking my language.” She finished the article by sharing her journey of perseverance and coming to terms "with being both Chinese and a woman."
I was lucky to grow up in a diverse household, where understanding and empathy were foundational in my upbringing. But I am still a straight, white male, and I realize I will never fully understand what it means to be a minority in a predominantly white culture. The article uniquely opened my eyes to the day-to-day struggles so many Asian Americans face, and I was crushed that my friend and colleague had lived her life navigating these challenges.
As I continued to process the article, my mind went to my childhood best friend. We grew up in Northwest Arkansas, where his mother had immigrated from Japan. He would often describe himself in a self-deprecating way, saying things like, “That girl would never be interested in me. She would never want an Asian guy.” He was always one of my favorite people in the world—funny, smart, popular, and a great athlete—so I had a hard time understanding why he spoke about himself like that. Being an ignorant teenager, I shrugged it off as him just being hard on himself.
The article opened my eyes to the many challenges he likely felt growing up in a predominantly white school and a country where the constant representations of beauty were white faces. I had a work trip to Seattle the next month, where my childhood friend now lives, so I met up with him for a drink at our usual spot. I told him about the article and how eye-opening it had been. He shared that his experiences were similar, and he often struggled with his appearance and family differences.
Nearly 20 years after becoming friends, I apologized for not being more aware, for not being a better friend, for shrugging off self-deprecating comments as him “just being hard on himself.” He quickly said it was not my fault and that there was no way for me to know what he was going through internally. While it may have been hard for me to know at the time, I’m grateful to better understand now, so I can be a better friend and ally. And I'm grateful for brave colleagues helping me grow through sharing their stories.
It is never too late to apologize or learn from your past. This story is an example of how you can be an ally but still be unaware of all the hardships people of color may face. There is no perfect ally, but the more you learn about others’ experiences, the more aware you become of their hardships.
Facing unconscious bias
Our next story explores unconscious bias and shares how quickly someone can correct their speech and actions. Unconscious bias is common, and it doesn’t have to reflect your conscious values. Confronting your unconscious bias isn’t shameful, it is a continually learning process that makes individuals stronger and creates united teams.
Ryan Gross, Partner
In the first six years of my career, through my first projects as a manager, I had zero female team members. Because of this, I had developed a habit of using male-gendered phrases: “great job guys,” “let’s go guys,” “gentlemen,” and so forth. When I finally had a (single) female team member on an eight-person team, I never thought to adjust my approach.
It wasn’t until the third month of the project that she had finally had enough of this and brought it up to me, saying it left her feeling like a secondary part of the team. She had been one of the higher performers on the team, and I felt terrible that I had marginalized her without even thinking about it. I had prided myself on being approachable and “part of the team” and encouraging a “win as a team mentality,” but coupled with my gendered language, I had never let her know how much I valued her contributions. Of course, I apologized and in the ensuing conversation also learned she preferred her praise in private emails or conversations rather than in a group.
I’m still thankful to her for having the courage to speak up, as it taught me not only the lesson of unconscious bias, but also to think of the best way to motivate each team member, and to have those conversations one on one and up front. I think that lesson has helped me immensely as a leader moving forward. As of late, I’ve become an advocate for DE&I education to help raise awareness for key topics, tailored to people’s level of experience and current circumstances.
Gender disparity is a prevalent issue in the workplace. It can be easy to switch to gender neutral terms and encourage inclusion by thinking through your actions and determining how it will impact everyone on a team.
Learning from biases
Our next story also shares the theme of unconscious bias. Unconscious bias isn’t inherently negative but can still make others feel uncomfortable. Again, facing your unconscious bias is a part of the learning process. As soon as you start learning from your biases, you begin making better decisions at work and developing stronger relationships.
Nickoria Johnson, Partner & Chief Diversity Officer
Long before serving in this role, I remember a time when my own unconscious bias kicked in. A former co-worker and now really good friend is Latina and I always assumed she spoke Spanish because her and her husband’s family are from Mexico.
One day we were out at a Mexican restaurant with a few close teammates and I spoke to the waiter in very broken Spanish. I looked to my Latina friend and jokingly said “Girl, now I know you can help me order this properly, my Spanish is terrible!” Her face turned red and she said, “I don’t really speak Spanish.” She then felt the need to justify why she didn’t speak Spanish well or regularly to me, in front of our other co-workers. That made me feel terrible—she was not just a co-worker to me, she was supposed to be my friend.
My assumption, unconscious at the time, was that my Latina friend must speak fluent Spanish and that within her household, Spanish was spoken just as much as English. That is like someone who assumes I am a great hip-hop dancer or love fried chicken and soul food because I am Black. (Note: I am a horrible hip-hop dancer and I trained in ballet and lyrical dance. I do love fried chicken and some soul food but not all.)
The impact: After the waiter left, I kindly stopped my co-worker in the middle of her “justification” commentary and said, “I am so very sorry. That was not right of me to assume you speak fluent Spanish. Please forgive me for assuming that and thank you for reminding me of who you are and sharing your journey with me.” She smiled and we kept it moving and over time we built an amazing friendship. But I found myself asking, “Who else am I assuming things about and why am I assuming those things?”
The teaching moment for me: Unconscious bias is real and it shows up in everyday decision-making, in conversation, and in the workplace. This is an example of an unconscious bias I didn’t know I had. Although I didn’t intend to make my friend feel uncomfortable, and in a public setting at that, I did make her feel very uncomfortable. We can all learn from each other and focus on the things that connect us, but it is important not to assume someone’s story or who they are unless we stop and ask them. We all come from different walks and have unique intersections of identity that make up who we are. We can’t always “see” who a person is, but we need to work hard to create space and time to know each other on a deeper level.
So the next time you assume someone likes a type of food, music, style of dance, or even speaks a certain language, pause and take a breath and frame a question that helps to open the door for dialog and to learn more from each other.
Learning from mistakes and growing in leadership
In leadership, you must be comfortable with not only making mistakes in the DE&I space but embracing them in hopes of teaching others how to become better allies and advocates. Confronting your biases and judgements may be unnerving, but ultimately leads to great progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion.
These three stories are real-life examples of how easy it can be to correct your ways and build stronger relationships inside and outside the workplace. We hope you learn from not only our “oops” moments, but yours as well, and feel comfortable sharing them with others.
If you’re interested in learning more about DE&I at Credera, reach out to us at email@example.com.