This is certainly a significant topic, and I in no way will attempt to address it holistically with all its complexities and sensitivities. I merely want to personally reflect on how these intrinsic prejudices, woven into the fabric of my existence through society, culture, and my own personal choices, are affecting me as I try to grow as a leader. Prejudice is an important subject, especially for leaders. Quiet obviously, leaders lead very diverse people and organizations. History is proof enough how prejudice influences the decisions of leaders, both intentionally, as in the examples of Native Americans, Jews during WWII, and Jim Crow, but usually quite unknowingly. Both can be disastrous.
As a leader, it's my job to cast a vision for the future and align people and resources toward the fulfillment of that future. As a manager, I want to help bring out the best in the people on my team, so they can reach their fullest potential for the team, company, and themselves. One of the keys to accomplishing both of these is overcoming my internal prejudices, since conflict and opposition are quick to follow when I don't. This is obvious for those who have felt discriminated against, but unfortunately is hard to identify when you are the one conveying the prejudice.
Racism is a good example of prejudice, although there are many other forms. I have two adoptive children who are black, and it's through this experience where I first was forced to confront my internal prejudices. Living in a majority white community, we get the stares in the grocery line, the awkwardness when people stop to ask if we run a daycare, and the hard conversations when my children are excluded during playtime. Given I'm white and feel this tension, I can only try to imagine what my children feel. When I look back on years past it's shocking to me how ignorant of my prejudices I used to be.
Sexism is another good example of prejudice. Why is it that when I see a women masterfully and professionally leading and facilitating a meeting or sales call, I find myself surprised? Does this internal, ugly root of sexism influence how I assign work or delegate my authority? Do I assign hard tasks to men, and easy tasks to women? I honestly don't think I do, but oh how powerful the subconscious can be!
Perhaps the prejudice is less obvious. Internal company politics and procedures, for example, can mascaraed via stereotype but are often rooted in hurtful prejudice. "That team is always a pain to work with!" "That company is so laced with red tape!" "Government workers are lazy and inefficient!" "Our IT Department is horrible!" This isn't the typical form of prejudice when one thinks of the term, but at their root is the display of pride, or thinking highly of oneself at the expense of others. Is that not the foundation most prejudices are built on?
There can be elements of truth in any stereotype. The question is how we respond to it. Do we grumble, complain, gossip, or perpetuate the stereotype, or do we lean in to influence the situation for the better? As a leader/manager, are we even aware of the perceptions and convictions of those around us we're trying to lead? Are we aware of the stereotypes we carry around and which unknowingly can influence our decisions? If I can answer these questions about myself, and know myself better, I will lead and manage more effectively.
What aspects of leadership and prejudice are important to you?