Making an impact by tapping into the unconscious

By Kim Stephens.


Quite by accident I have become the subject matter expert on unconscious bias within IBM. It’s interesting because I’ve been asked several times if I’m a psychologist or if I’m a management development facilitator. I am neither. I am an English major with a Master’s in communication working on a doctorate in business. So what am I doing leading unconscious bias sessions?

Well, first I have a passion for creating an inclusive world. You’ll notice I said world and not just IBM. I try to dream big. With my job in diversity, I strive to make a difference every day and sometimes that allows me to make a big impact and sometimes a small impact on the world. I’m curious about my fellow humans, so I ask questions and seek to learn constantly.

When Suzanne Murphy, Maureen Hunter and I created IBM’s module for unconscious bias we weren’t sure how it would be received. We did a lot of research and then we ran a pilot. That went well, so we wanted to do more. I just delivered in Yorktown to 50 P-TECH students and their mentors. I changed the material a little for this audience, and I think it was a hit – not because I was a rock star presenter, but because I saw the light bulbs going off all over the room.

These moments are ones where I’m especially proud to be an IBMer. Today I had an impact. I know I may not have reached all of those students and their mentors, but I guarantee they all had conversations that may have stayed hidden without this class.

Most likely all of us have experienced unconscious bias – whether it was being directed at us or we were the offender. But by being aware of the science behind our unconscious thoughts, perhaps we can learn to slow down and truly think about our actions. Research shows that anywhere from sixty to ninety percent of our brain activity is unconscious. To me, that is frightening. I do not want to walk around oblivious to the decisions my brain is making.

Awareness is the first step. Exploration is the next, so I invite you to learn more about unconscious bias. And that will lead to the last step – taking action based on informed thought, rather than preformed assumptions.

We need more unconscious bias subject matter experts. Won’t you join me? #InclusiveIBM

Check out more articles by Kim Stephens here.

Kim Stephens is IBM’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Communication and Education Lead

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