Roughly 20 of SWOG’s senior leaders and staff devoted half a day earlier this week to taking part in a Pope Consulting workshop on inclusive leadership. We consulted Pope to help us make our group and our trials more diverse and inclusive.

Half a day is a lot of time for anyone, let alone these dedicated volunteers, yet the need for more inclusive leadership – and the benefits to be derived from it – are that important to SWOG.

A major focus of the workshop was to increase our awareness of our own biases and of how those attitudes can affect relationships. This self-examination is a critical starting point, if we’re to make SWOG more inclusive and welcoming.

The workshop opened, after initial introductions, with what we thought was a simple icebreaker exercise but which helped us start examining some of the assumptions and attitudes we act on, often unconsciously. We broke into groups and were asked to make conjectures about our moderator’s age, the car he drove, and the music he liked. Age estimates varied pretty widely but tended to be a fair bit lower than his actual age (he didn’t complain). Car choices were pure guesswork and were thus all over the place. As for music, quite a few of us pegged him as a likely jazz fan, we thought because he was well-spoken, reasonably well-dressed, and appeared cultured. Turns out he’s actually a fan of classical music, primarily. Why did so many of us assume he was probably a jazz fan but not classical, when the same stereotypical traits would seem to apply to lovers of both genres? Could it have been, as we discussed with him,  because he was a Black man? Reflecting on this question for a minute made it seem unavoidable that many of us had let that influence our choice. This specific assumption based on race was worrisome and revealing, given that so many of us incorporated it into our decision making, likely without being aware of it, even when we knew that examining such assumptions would be a key goal of the workshop we were launching into.

We all hold prejudices – the challenge is recognizing these in ourselves and not letting them be the bases for our judgement. Behaviors in response to such attitudes – and frank unchecked bias – can lead to discrimination.

As leaders in SWOG, we need to work to change the group and group attitudes by first examining our own attitudes. For institutions, the policies and practices developed under the influence of such attitudes can codify that discrimination, resulting in fewer opportunities and privileges for some groups. By changing our policies and practices with heightened awareness of our own attitudes, we can establish new standards for behavior, and open our group to more diverse members, potentially increasing the skill sets contained therein.

Monday’s workshop continued with a number of revealing exercises and with frank discussion of critical issues we tend to skirt in polite conversation, such as how to address differences in a way that increases team communication and comfort levels rather than reinforcing barriers. It left us all with much to reflect on, and I believe the ultimate result will be a SWOG leadership team better equipped to practice the inclusivity we preach.

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