Befriending Dragons

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Remotely Biased – A Befriending Dragons Story

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Humaaans generated image of a dark skinned woman in a blue skirt and long sleeve top facing left and walking quickly with arms outstretched.
Embrace anti-bias in remote work

Last week @VeniKunche tweeted asking for “remote work” tips for managers. I immediately replied with a whole string of tips that reduce bias. Veni said, hey, blog that. And I thought, sure, that’s easy. And yet here it is, days later, and I hadn’t written much more than a paragraph until I accepted Amy Cuddy’s invite to Quarantine Writing Hour. I can literally feel the anxiety sitting in my chest, aching. Folks, this is what it’s like to work during a crisis, personal or global. It’s not because I’m remote, it’s not because no one is watching over my shoulder with an eye to punish lowered productivity. It’s because we’re stressed, we’re worried about family and friends and the future of the world, we are fidgety, we miss our community, we are overwhelmed. Luckily I’m not feeling sick, but many are and without sufficient testing we don’t know who actually has COVID-19.

Some of us have done remote work for a while, some are completely new to the experience. As the need to maintain “social distance” grows with the spread of COVID-19 there are fountains of advice on the practical aspects of how to work remotely. But what about the social justice and leadership aspects? How do we keep bias and bullying from creeping into every aspect of working remotely? How does this impact various folks differently? How do we take advantage of this social disruption to drive positive changes into our workplace, changes that could linger long after the novel Coronavirus is under control?

The reasons it took me so long to write this story are the same reasons we can’t expect high productivity out of people working from home right now. It’s not the working from home part. It’s the stress of working in an unfamiliar environment, underprepared, while we’re worried about everything. Many folks have unfamiliar, inadequate equipment in a home where they may also be caregivers for other stressed out folks. There may not be enough devices, internet bandwidth, or “included” data for everyone to work and learn at once. We may not have physical or emotional safety.

Kindness

“You can be rich in spirit, kindness, love and all those things that you can’t put a dollar sign on.” — Dolly Parton

Change causes stress. Even when we’re able to use stress to push us forward, it can still negatively impact our lives. So prioritize kindness over niceness and politeness.

Center the folks most marginalized on your team, and do all you can to uplift them even if means making other folks uncomfortable when you point out bias. Don’t tolerate COVID-19 jokes, insensitive comments that trivialize the danger to the most marginalized, or point blame at Asian people. Practice now how you will reply to anyone making ableist, racist, or sexist comments.

Where’s the bias?

“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” — Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

Well, women and people of color are much more likely to be caregiving than white men are, and that takes time and energy. We’re crowded into unfamiliar situations where we have to navigate all sorts of family dynamics that we’re not used to, and typically that will fall mostly to one person, using up their already limited energy. As somebody living alone with my cats, I’m also going through this chaos because I’m fielding calls and messages from friends and family with problems they need help with, things I may or may not be able to help them with. I get really stressed when I can’t help people who need me! I’m constantly bombarded with news snippets and feeling compelled to dig deeper, because my curiosity is always in the forefront of my actions and there’s so much new, vital, literally life or death information ALL THE TIME. That makes us less productive – don’t penalize that right now!

Women, especially BIPOC, are more likely to be cooped up for days on end with an abuser, to have lower savings (hey, pay gap!), to be expected to deal with everyone else’s stress, to rely on a community that is now less available, and all those other inequities we’ve been talking about and doing so little to actual address.

When we’re stressed or short on time we fall back on deeply embedded patterns, and that means we rely more on stereotypes and bias. We have to be very intentional to pay attention to this and compensate for the bias that will ALWAYS creep in.

The Tweets aka the Advice

I’m going to make this ultra-simple on myself, I’m going to paste below my replies to Veni’s tweet. I welcome comments and questions.

Cindy Gross (she/her) #BefriendingDragons@CindyGross This is for university professors but it could be adapted to workplaces. Be flexible, lower expectations (folks are scared, sick, overwhelmed, facing change), put family and health 1st, things will get messed up – expect it and don’t punish it, be kind. https://anygoodthing.com/2020/03/12/please-do-a-bad-job-of-putting-your-courses-online/

Some of your employees are going to spend a whole lot of time in enforced close proximity to their abuser. Some are the abuser, perhaps triggered by stress and frustration. Be kind.

Not everyone has enough bandwidth, may face a datacap. They may not have great, fast devices at home, may have to share one pc. They may have many folks in the house streaming classes, meetings, large files. Keep your emails and optional files simple & small.

Folks react differently to isolation. Offer but don’t force virtual coffees, open “water cooler” zoom calls where people can come & go, gracious space questions for folks to reflect on how they are creating success in chaos with a focus on finding the ways they are doing great.

Put on your anti-bias hat. Don’t over-reward the folks who over deliver during this time. They will be disproportionately white men because that’s how our white patriarchy is set up. Statistically men have more flexible schedules & fewer child/elder care duties.

All sorts of biases will be exaggerated as everyone is under pressure, managers have to be extra careful to be great allies. Ppl who aren’t white may not always code switch at home the way they do at work. You may see more of their authentic self – reward this, don’t punish it.

Remember at review/reward/promo time that this virus has disrupted the year. Highlight & reward folks who build strong relationships, strong containers, strong stakeholder outreach. A lot of “soft skills” that ppl who aren’t white men have to develop to survive can be showcased.

Change is everywhere right now, fill the cracks with anti-bias. This is hard work, but may actually be easier since disruption is already on full swing. Rebuild with anti-bullying and anti-bias.

Managers, now is the time to bring in folks like Veni or me or any of the myriad of anti-bias, pro-belonging, pro-DEI folks to take hold of this disruption in work life and come out the other side stronger. #BefriendingDragons

And some tweets from other threads

Summary

Be kind. Center the most marginalized over the most powerful. Be anti-bullying, anti-harassment, anti-racist, & anti-sexist.

Going forward, allow more folks to work from home regularly without penalty. This disproportionately helps folks with disabilities and those who are caregivers. It builds trust and refocuses everyone on the work. It’s good business, good for your employees, and good for the environment.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world. - Fred Rogers
Look for the helpers – Fred Rogers

Pledge to really work hard to address the bias head-on in your next round of reviews and/or rewards. Don’t reward productivity in and of itself. Reward those who help others through this, who build and nurture relationships, who reduce other people’s stress and tension. Those people are the true leaders.

Want receipts on these bias factors? Search on terms like:

Check out my Befriending Dragons reading list if you want to dig deeper.

Be kind, lean into checking your biases, and reflect on how to thrive during this stressful time.

One thought on “Remotely Biased – A Befriending Dragons Story

  1. I completely agree with what you have written. I hope this post could reach more people as this was truly an interesting post.

    Please check my blog about There be Dragons

    Hope this will help. Thank you

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