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Beating unconscious bias
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Posted by IPG
In the third in a series of guest blogs about promoting diversity in publishing, the Equality Academy’s Razia Aziz explains how leaders can promote inclusion
It is a cliché to say that our children are our teachers—but like all clichés, there’s some truth in it. Watching their brains wiring up to be ‘fit for purpose’ in today’s world is fascinating. It is hard for us adults to remember a child’s eye view of the world, because it means unlearning years of social conditioning.
The unconscious brain does not just reflect the reality ‘out there’, but generates its own—partial and incomplete—version of reality, which drives as much as 80 to 90% of our behaviour. To turn our unknowing, smooth, new-born brains into intricately wired organs of untold complexity involves billions of electrochemical events triggered by repeated exposure to certain things occurring together—green-go, red-stop, woman-serving-food, man-driving-lorry, dog-threat and so on. Grasping this is indispensable to understanding how unconscious bias emerges and how it might be tackled.
To lead inclusively is to recognise that we are all soft-wired by experience and practice to live by a version of reality that reflects our unique life journey. We must then learn the skill of re-wiring, and start to lead people, processes and policies that help individuals and organisations to do the same. Why should we do this? Because it is fair. Because it is more interesting and enjoyable than reproducing homogeneity. And because it is great for business.
To lead inclusively, we need to identify and un-learn some things like stereotypical assumptions, and re-learn others, like the innate curiosity that leads children to question, for instance, racism or laws that prohibit same-sex marriage. We need to develop fine skills of challenging and nudging ourselves and others away from lazy assumptions, depart from our comfort zones so we can learn new things, and get really imaginative with our language, imagery and environments so that they signal and trigger inclusiveness.
This includes generating and promoting believable, non-stereotyped stories and images, not exceptionally but repeatedly, to help turn around the tide of stereotyped data to which adults and children are routinely exposed in our 24/7 information world. This is a fantastically creative endeavour, requiring us to think outside of our usual boxes and constantly innovate. Publishing has an important role to play in it, by wiring and re-wiring brains of all ages for a more rounded perception of our marvellously diverse world.
Razia Aziz is founder director of the Equality Academy, a company devoted to conscious leadership in a diverse world. Find out more about its work here.
For two other recent guest blogs on diversity in publishing, see Five Ways to Improve Diversity and A Louder Voice for Asian Writers.

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