This morning I read a very powerful tweet by Journalist and Presenter Jasmine Dotiwala - I have screenshot it here as it deserves to be seen in full:
Jasmine speaks of her experiences of unconscious bias, and why she continually impresses the message to young people - in particular young women - that "The playing field is not level - Play YOUR cards"
Unconscious bias is a bias we are unaware of. It is commonly used in the socio-political context in regards to discrimination (eg. where research has shown that black interviewees were given less speaking time and the interviewer shuffled paper more; or women receiving lower pay than their male counterparts for the same job without question; sometimes the requirement of men to wear ties, but similar dress codes not applying to women in hot weather). It can also affect us in our daily lives on a smaller scale - spending less time at a friend's house because they've had a baby - or got a dog (if we have a desire for neither), or even refusing a lift because someone has bought a car of a make you don't like. These biases are not voiced explicitly, and often we give very reasonable "reasons" why we no longer wish to do those things being offered to us...we may (and often do hence the "unconscious" part) believe them ourselves.
My immediate thought in response to Jasmine's tweet after "You go girl" was I agree - these biases do exist, and maybe it's time to reclaim the concept of the glass ceiling - it's glass - it can be broken. Woman, ethnic minority, LGBTQ - successful people I've had the privilege to meet, work with, or see perform face the same struggle every minute - and they - we - fight every single day.
I've generally held the belief that being Chinese didn't hold me back - I've had a long career in teaching, published two books, I've got a regular guest slot with The Chrissy B show, I'm invited to speak at events...but would I have been more successful if I was Caucasian? Note, that last question is not actually what this post is about - I don't know, I don't let it bother me, and I just keep working, writing and speaking my truth...but I do want to address two things to be mindful of in this fight:
1. Unless we believe ourselves to be equal - simply as people - not as our title or our achievement, we can fight all we want and achieve more than anyone, but we will not recognise it in ourselves;
2. If we don't recognise it in ourselves, we may become focused on beating down rather than thriving - living and growing - in the space we've created.
There will still be bias, but if you live your life on every level with the knowledge that your successes are yours, your work pays off, and you delight in everything you have done, no-one can take that away...and you will probably find you can climb even higher more easily - because you know in yourself you're pulling your own weight up those steps - and that you're damn good at it.
The importance of mindset
I've discussed reframing in a previous post, but will reiterate the key point here:
Consider the DILTS model of change <Click the image for my full 25 min ILM webinar on this topic>
For DILTS change can occur at any level of the hierarchy, but if it begins at the lower levels – as is often the easiest, the results will not flow upwards. Make the change at a higher level and the results permeate down.
For example, many people wishing to lose weight may join a gym (change of environment). They may even go a few times (a change in behaviour), they may get stronger (increased capability) but unless they begin to enjoy exercise, or find a way of connecting mentally with either the results or the action they are taking, many will stop and old habits resume. The most successful change occurs when you can establish the reasons WHY someone may choose to be more healthy (the purpose, or their identity or their belief) and when you can tap into that so that they become the person who "lives healthily", who "respects their body", who even just "wants to look fantastic in that outfit", the rest follows more swiftly. The person who changes their mindset has changed their self-belief and the behaviour changes follow. The person who loses weight and gets stronger but believes themselves to be "fat" or "ugly" is likely to revert to their unhealthy behaviours because "why should they bother".
When we don't recognise our achievements we become resentful - resentment drains energy
Like many of the clients I coach I've had the phrase "high achiever" thrown at me, and those who know me are familiar with my "more titles than Daenerys" joke:
I'm not going to list them, but in short, 3 separate degrees (Psych, Law, Teaching), MSc (History), and a PhD, as well as a stupid amount of practitioner qualifications...I've got more letters after my name than the alphabet...(Let's not go into "privilege" - I appreciate I've been lucky, I'm grateful I've been supported, and I've not wasted it - any of it!) But those achievements meant NOTHING to me until much more recently (after a lot of my own self-reflection!) Why do you think I chased so many? That little hit of dopamine when I got my next certificate kept me going a bit longer.
Again, this is not a "poor me" - but to give this some context in order to offer my teaching points - my upbringing was my father loving my achievements, and my mother feeling I'd never be good enough because I wasn't Caucasian - that was a constant mantra...not pretty enough, not clever enough, not good enough...unless I could be the best at tennis, or dance, or skating, or cello, or piano... Turns out I'm mediocre to bad at a lot of those things, but I'm really good at talking psychology. My mother has passed away and my father is "softening" in his old age, and I'm grateful to them for making me the driven person that I am.
But what I noticed was - especially as there are fewer achievements to chase now - a sense of anxiety if I felt "I've got nothing to show people right now". Worse still I'd feel envy at my friends who talked about their achievements (any achievement, any pretty picture, anything in fact that I hadn't done, whether I'd want to do it or not.) I'd become resentful of the attention they were getting because I had nothing to talk about. (Oh I was good at hiding it of course - aren't we all!?) But the reality is, books take time, degrees take time, achievements take time...and I know I've got more than my share (and room for more) so why wasn't it enough? I didn't believe in me.
Learn to appreciate your accomplishments
In working to reframe what I've done as accomplishments that I'm really proud of rather than simply "collectables" like the fruit in PacMan, I'm learning to relax. ...and that's making me a lot happier - and a lot nicer. (I genuinely am completely pleased, proud of and happy for my friends now!!)
Imposter syndrome, low self-esteem, seeking validation from others and the fighting spirit that we cultivate to get us through - all of these feelings can help us achieve more than we - and certainly the naysayers - thought possible. But there comes a point where the more we accomplish needs to be accepted not as "sticking it to the man/woman/parent/person-who-told-you-you'd-never-do-it" but as "oh cool - well done". If it doesn't we either really will burnout or exhaust ourselves - and possibly damage important relationships in the process - in trying to level up without an end to our campaign, or we will become angry, resentful people because we are tired and people still aren't seeing how far we've come.
People won't always see. You need to.
Because unless you see yourself as equal as a person, your titles will mean nothing except exhaustion.
Live, enjoy and grow in the life your drive has created
1. Reframe your thinking
Often when we feel inferior, but objectively our achievements make us equal to - or even "above" (if say a higher pay scale is an objective measure of success) we need to reframe how we see ourselves.
- Try to identify what it is you see in others you deem "more successful" than you
- Recognise that your "on paper" accomplishments may be the same, or more, and it might just be the means of expression that they have
- Decide if you want to learn that style, or if you are happy with your own
- Secret tip - being happy with your own doesn't mean you're secretly "better" than they are!! It's all about being equal not beating down!
2. Live your truth
- If you want to talk about something, talk about it - and see who sticks around to converse. Yes, this may mean you need to curate some of your friendships, but it's better that than feeling resentful or holding back.
- Go a step further - as long as you are not being overly antagonistic, express how you feel. (I told a delivery guy I wouldn't look after a parcel the other day because I didn't like my neighbour, sounds harsh? When they moved in they parked across my drive every time my car wasn't there and kept being surprised when I asked them to move it). I'm actually proud of myself for being honest rather than doing what I would normally do, accept the parcel and make my husband answer the door.
3. Curate your friendships
- You are never obligated to be anyone's friend...you may be obligated because of a service (but that debt is usually obvious), however just because you were friends in the past, doesn't mean your lives still intertwine. Spend less time questioning the relationships you have become unsure of, and focus on the ones you know matter - a rule of thumb on deciding:
List what you love about X
Does the list only include a negative positive eg. "They were there for me when x crisis happened" - if that's the case - you may have been drawn to them at that time, but you are not obligated. Friends that bring out the best in us may of course also have "been there" but their list is also likely to include that they "make me laugh", "are kind", "are thoughtful", "are fun", "are inclusive", "are generous".... In the former case, say "thank you" if you feel the need and don't worry about (not/no longer) cultivating that relationship...and if there are not even negative positives, you know what to do. With the others - you make sure you're giving back to them in laughter, kindness, fun (or whatever is meaningful to you) all that they bring to your life!!
4. Be kind
Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. We are all fighting invisible battles, we all have scars. Just because some people seem more adjusted doesn't mean the waters aren't stormy underneath. Living authentically takes time, changing your mindset takes time - and you won't always "get it right" straight away. I always tell clients - "you don't know until you know". What I mean by that is, you can read articles such as this, and you can agree and you can say "I'm going to do X", and something will trigger those old feelings. Or, you might not even get that far. You might even say these things (and more that you've read in self-help books) but not believe them yourself. It's ok.
Being aware is the start, reflecting on it is next, and the more that happens, the more you will begin to make those shifts in thinking. Once the shift in your mindset has occurred, the shift in your footing - or perhaps the security of who you are and where you stand - will follow much faster. Then you'll start to thrive.
Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (2018) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (2016) She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Training Consultant with her training consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She consults, coaches and often presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, as well as being part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness and provides psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations.