When Risha Grant talks about “BS,” she means bias synapse and blind spots.
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When Risha Grant talks about “BS,” she means bias synapse and blind spots. But the author of “That’s BS! How Bias Synapse Disrupts Inclusive Cultures” more than embraces the initials’ colorful connotations when it comes to confronting unconscious biases holding organizations back from creating inclusive company cultures.
“I know what you think it is,” joked the straightforward Oklahoman, who has made a national name for herself with her funny and honest approach to tackling uncomfortable workplace issues. “It actually stands for bias synapse … but it is a play on bullshit because we treat people badly based upon some diverse characteristics. And that is BS.”
Weaving in humorous family stories and examples from her own life, including never leaving a store without a sack and a receipt, the award-winning bias, diversity and inclusion expert explained how hidden biases begin and propagate themselves. And she offered concrete tools for individuals and companies to shed themselves of BS in the name of higher profits, better corporate citizenship — and, most importantly, doing the right thing, in the wake of a string of violent and revealing incidents, including the recent George Floyd case in which a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of third-degree murder and two other charges for kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
“We’ve always made it about the business case … how important it is for our bottom line,” Ms. Grant said in comments at Cedar Rapids-based Women Lead Change’s 2021 ICR Iowa Conference May 4. The all-day virtual event featured a bevy of heavy-hitting speakers, from change expert Ariane de Bonvoisin and New York Times-bestselling self-help author Gabby Bernstein to Shellye Archambeau, one of the high-tech industry’s first Black female CEOs.
“And while that’s important, there’s more, because it’s not just that we’re losing money anymore, we are also losing lives, right?” she said, also citing the deaths (Arbery was not police-related) of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. “We cannot look at it just being money anymore. We’re losing lives. We have to remember that the price of inclusion is so much cheaper than the price of exclusion.”
Ms. Grant explained that bias synapse arises from negative encounters as benign as being afraid of a disheveled, trenchcoated man on an elevator on a 100-degree day. From there, fear can linger, instilling bias against men in trench coats even when they are weather appropriate. She described it as “autopilot” brain, much as many people drive home without remembering any details of getting there.
“We don’t have diversity problems,” she said. “We have people problems.”
Drawing on her own past, Ms. Grant frankly admitted to previously carrying several biases of her own, including being wary of white people for the first part of her life and not understanding the trans community.
“I am not here to blame you, guilt you, or judge you,” she said. “I could die before some of you change your mind. All I want to do is provide you with a few different perspectives in which to form your own views.”
Ms. Grant, a self-proclaimed ex-preacher’s wife who became a bisexual Division 1 basketball player in “one of the reddest states in the nation,” described herself as “diversity personified.”
“But so are all of you,” she said, adding diversity was not at all limited to race.
Ms. Grant offered a three-step process to examining bias, that included first admitting biases out loud to hear how misinformed they sound:
Identify the BS. “First and foremost, I didn’t trust white folks,” she said, adding that the transgender community also initially flummoxed her. “Let me say this, I realize how ignorant that statement is,” she said. “But it’s where I started my journey … I did the work. And I have gotten the chance to get to know some trans people. And I think they are amazing. In fact, I think they’re some of the most courageous people I have ever met. But it’s because I self-educated, because I’m here to learn about something that I didn’t understand.”
Assess the BS. “You want to assess the issue by thinking, who makes you uncomfortable, and why,” Ms. Grant said, adding it can be anything from feeling uneasy about sitting next to an obese person on an airplane or judging people with tattoos and piercing, to unfairly categorizing people wearing a turban. People should think about, “is it their fault you’re uncomfortable or is that you? This the step where you say it out loud… when I say it out loud, ‘I don’t trust any white people in the whole world.’ It just sounds like BS, right?”
Confront the BS. “I’ve heard about the golden rule of treating people the way you want to be treated,” she said. “I’m going to ask you to take a step further and employ the platinum rule of treating people as they want to be treated.”