Today I met with Ashish Kaushal, CEO at HireTalent and Co-founder of Consciously Unbiased at his office in New York City. What a phenomenal guy! Ashish and I first connected through LinkedIn. I was doing my usual evening browsing to see who might be a good connection when I came across a Ashish’s profile. I sent a connection request and he accepted. I reached out and we scheduled time to talk by phone. We had a really good conversation about the Women of Color Connecting initiative and he immediately got how the work he is doing through Consciously Unbiased is related to Women of Color Connecting...it’s tough to form authentic, real connections with people who view you through a different lens that allows them to only see you as probably unqualified at best or as a charity case at worst. While his work is mostly around talent recruitment, the challenges that are created by unconscious biases in his world and in mine are the same.
What most people don’t think about is that it’s not the overtly racist or bigoted people who openly seek to oppress others that are the biggest problem. Polite society finds them and over time roots them out. It’s the well-intentioned people who say that they care about diversity and inclusion, fairness, equity and equality but who are not active in and mindful about changing “business as usual” who are the real problem. There are many more of these people and their lack of action is harder to address.
Take for instance the recent incident that happened with the young African American wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to cut his locks in order to compete in a wrestling match. The first comments that I saw were calls for disciplinary action for the referee who made the outlandish demand...yes, it’s clear that should happen. He should be banned from officiating ever again. What I found more appalling was the people who sat there watching and let it happen. Where was his coach in defending him? Where were his teammates in defending him? Why didn’t his competitor say that he refused to win by forfeit? Everyone in the room that day who allowed this to happen was complicit. Yes it was this young man’s choice. But was it really? He was trying to fit, to be a team player, to not cause a hardship to his team. I’m sure most of the people in that room think of themselves as progressive and would say it’s wrong to discriminate against others and that we are all equal, yet they stood by as someone who was not like them was publicly humiliated and abused.
Talking with Ashish made me think about why good people would be passive bystanders in a situation like this. Their unconscious bias enabled them to view the situation through a different lens than if a similar situation was happening to their own child. We all have a lens with various filters based on our life experiences through which we view the world. Those of us who yearn for a world in which everyone can reach their highest potential have to commit ourselves to being agents of change.
So how does this apply to Women of Color entrepreneurs? Many of the barriers that they continue to face are grounded in unconscious bias. While the entrepreneurs have to be ready, willing and able when opportunity comes, the real work to be done is with the influencers, decision-makers and power brokers...helping them learn how to view these entrepreneurs through a new lens. This is what will drive greater inclusion for Women of Color entrepreneurs (and others) when it comes to access to capital, contracts and large market opportunities.
We are committed to facilitating and being part of conversations that build bridges and break down barriers. I hope you will join us.