How to Get Beyond Bias, or Why We Should All Listen to Verna Myers

At Take The Lead, we work from a solutions mindset to support women in taking their fair share of leadership positions across the board by 2025.Real solutions thinking is not about ignoring problems or selling people on shiny ideas; it’s about highlighting what’s working (e.g., new ideas, actions, behaviors, and patterns of working) so that more people can learn about and join those efforts. One of my favorite examples of solutions thinking (and also #powerTO thinking) when it comes to dealing with bias is a talk by Verna Myers titled “How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them.” You can watch it here:[youtube height=“315” width=“560”][/youtube]

Myers’s talk is different because she goes beyond calling out bias to name the equally challenging problem of how we struggle individually and collectively to respond to bias. Here’s where solutions thinking comes in—she goes on to describe and make visible new potential realities. She offers up new ways all of us can choose to relate to one another… if we’re intentional about it. She describes actions we can take to make these new realities possible that aren’t limited by inherited bias.

On Speaking UpOn racism, Myers says: “We’ve gone as far as we can go trying to make a difference trying to not see color…While we’re busy pretending not to see, we are not being aware of the ways in which racial difference is changing people’s possibilities.” She implores us to speak up when we see bias as a way of stopping biased behavior: “When we see something, we have to have the courage to say something, even to the people we love.” I love this, because we know that this is how and where change happens: one-on-one, in everyday conversations, in our own lives and communities.myersMyers suggests we tell our children: “We have an amazing country, with incredible ideals. We have worked incredibly hard and we have made some progress, but we are not done.” This is a different story to tell kids than the story most of us have been told: that people and ideas are judged on merit and the quality of their performance, that hard work is enough to get us ahead and connected and make us successful. This myth of meritocracy is a fiercely individualistic idea. We’ve gone as far as we can go with it as a nation. (Read Joe Nocera‘s great takedown of this idea in the New York Times.)On Seeing Each Other FullyMyers calls for us to interact with one another in such a way that we make way for the whole person to show up. She asks that we work toward a society, for example, in which “young black men can be seen for ALL of who they are.”What an incredible thing that would be, if rather than perpetuating our biases and assumptions about people, we created space black men to be seen for all of who they are… for women to be seen for all of who they are. Heck, if we allowed this for everybody.On Creating Room for New Things to HappenTo let people be whole, we must create spaces big enough for this to even be a possibility. Let me get specific. Space for new possibility is something very real each of us has the power to create for another person in our interactions. It’s the extra breath we take before responding with a standard response or knee-jerk reaction. It’s about stopping ourselves before assuming we know the whole story about somebody. The only thing you should assume is that you have a whole bunch of assumptions you carry with you. As Myers says, we all have biases. Acknowledging this is a starting place and slowing down our interactions helps.We can also build space for new possibility into the way we structure our organizations, our jobs, our evaluation processes when it comes to philanthropy, and in our organizing. It’s something we can create in the way we talk to ourselves and our colleagues about “the way things are” versus “the way things could be.” It means taking risks. No matter what, it requires getting serious about bias and being willing to practice new behaviors, as Myers suggests. It’s about having the courage to name problems frankly and ask people to behave differently, telling them you need them to change because their actions perpetuate harmful power structures. It’s about asking for help.And, as Ashley Ford recently shared at The’s event “The State of Women in 2014” about joining any kind of movement building, it’s about having the courage to say “I don’t know,” and “This is what I am learning.” “Part of being a good ally,” Ford said, “is saying, ‘I didn’t always know this was true. I didn’t understand.’” In that moment, new ways of being are given a chance to take hold.