In the journey toward creating more inclusive workplaces, it's crucial for leaders to equip their teams with effective tools to acknowledge and address bias. One innovative approach, inspired by the diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm Just Work, involves establishing a unique code word to signal the presence of bias in real time. This strategy fosters an environment of open dialogue and reflection and normalizes the understanding that biases are a common challenge requiring collective effort to overcome.
The Power of a Code Word
The "purple flag" used by the employees at Just Work exemplifies a less intimidating yet equally effective alternative to the traditional "red flag." This innovative approach is crafted to highlight biases as they emerge in meetings and conversations, fostering a space where blame is not assigned nor defensiveness provoked. In embracing a shared vocabulary that resonates with the team's culture—whether it’s a simple "Yo," an amusing meow, or an emoji in digital communications—leaders can actively motivate team members to contribute to a more inclusive environment. For instance, addressing commonly used terms with sexist connotations, such as "Lazy Susan," can serve as a pivotal moment for teams to discuss and adopt alternative language that does not perpetuate stereotypes or biases. By using a code word to signal when such terms are mentioned, the conversation shifts towards understanding and reevaluating our language, emphasizing the importance of thoughtful communication in cultivating an inclusive workplace.
A Three-Step Framework for Addressing Bias
The methodology developed by Just Work co-founders Kim Scott and Trier Bryant provides a comprehensive guide for leaders seeking to implement this approach:
1. Create a Shared Vocabulary
Establishing a common signal to identify bias is the first step. This requires choosing a code word or gesture that resonates with the entire team and ensuring its meaning is understood universally. The goal is to allow for the acknowledgment of bias without derailing the ongoing conversation or meeting. Opting for a lighthearted or informal signal can mitigate the discomfort typically associated with such discussions.
2. Set a Shared Norm
Once the bias is flagged, the response is as important as the identification. The immediate reaction should be one of gratitude, recognizing the courage it takes to highlight bias. Subsequent actions depend on whether the bias is acknowledged or requires further clarification. This stage emphasizes the importance of openness and the willingness to engage in further dialogue, whether immediately or at a later time. Establishing clear norms for these interactions ensures everyone knows how to proceed when a code word is used.
3. Agree to a Shared Commitment
Acknowledging that we all have biases and may unintentionally cause harm is challenging. Therefore, reinforcing the commitment to address and learn from these biases in every interaction is vital. This shared commitment serves as a reminder that the journey towards inclusivity is collective, where mistakes are part of the learning process, and growth is achieved together.
Implementing Your Code Word
For leaders looking to adopt this strategy within their teams, the following steps can guide the implementation process:
- Engage Your Team: Discuss the concept and its benefits openly, encouraging input on the code word or signal.
- Define the Process: Clearly outline how the code word will be used and the expected responses, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
- Practice and Reflect: Regularly revisit the effectiveness of your code word, encouraging feedback and making adjustments as needed.
- Foster an Atmosphere of Continuous Learning: Emphasize that using a code word is part of a broader commitment to learning, growth, and inclusivity.
Embracing a code word to disrupt bias allows teams to take a significant step towards creating a workplace culture that recognizes the ubiquitous nature of biases and commits to addressing them in a constructive and inclusive manner. Try it out with your team, and let us know how it goes.