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A Fierce Heart

A Fierce Heart isn’t a business book, but it is. Spring Washam beautifully illustrates key Buddhist teachings in a way that I find so much more accessible than other, more traditional writings.  Spring Washam’s path has been messy and she offers a glimpse into how the practice looks in real life.  This is not a book for yoga babes.  This is a book for real people who are immersed in the good, the bad and the ugly of everyday work and life.  I want to state upfront that I am in no way an expert on Buddhism, mindfulness or meditation.  And that’s the point.  We don’t have to be experts to reap the benefits of mindfulness, in work and in life.

I used to pride myself on not bringing my personal life to work.  A wise woman once very gently called bullshit on that.  It’s impossible to leave ourselves behind when we go to work. What I was actually saying, but didn’t fully understand, was that I could manage my behavior at work.   Now, after more than ten years of studying Buddhist teachings and the science of mindfulness, and more than ten years of being a truly terrible meditator, I am beginning to understand.

“Meditation practice doesn’t change anything around us.  It simply reminds us who we already are-and that can change everything.”     -Spring Washam

Some of this is what people call “soft skills”, but they’re much harder to acquire than concrete skills like creating budgets or developing data visualizations. While everyone can benefit from simple meditation practice, not everyone will believe it can make a difference.  It doesn’t matter.  Doing it regularly is what creates a change.  Even if you don’t “believe in it” or don’t think you’re “doing it right”. Here are three ways in which mindfulness changed my experiences at work.  I hope these will help you too.

The Gift of Criticism

Few people enjoy criticism, but it is a gift.  I remember my heart racing and the stomachache I had as I read the reviews for my first article in a scientific journal.  Over time, my physical response to criticism diminished, but it never completely went away.  Over time, I learned to use the gift of criticism to improve my work.  It isn’t easy to do.  Examples of unhealthy reactions to criticism are everywhere.  Elon Musk threatens to privatize Tesla after criticism from the board.  The President fires off threatening tweets to people and nations that criticize his actions. 

Mindfulness is the difference between knee-jerk reactions and being able to act on criticism in a constructive way. It’s impossible to benefit from the gifts of critical feedback without feeling some discomfort.  The key is to separate the truly constructive parts from the parts that are not helpful.  At one point, I worked in an office that was encouraging staff to give each other constructive feedback.  Most of the time, it worked well.  One staff member would begin with “I have some feedback for _____”, then she would go on to describe everything that she found problematic in a way that often came across as petty and spiteful.  Even though this person’s feedback was given in a mean-spirited way, it didn’t mean she didn’t have some good points.  Being able to listen to criticism, weigh the motivations of the person giving feedback and pull out the truly relevant and constructive advice is a valuable skill to develop.  The only way to improve our work is to look at it honestly and critically.

How to Accept the Gift of Criticism

Breathe

Take slow breaths as you hear or read critical comments.  

Pause

Don’t speak or act immediately.  Let your initial knee-jerk reactions pass before responding.

Think

Deep down, you already know the parts of the criticism that are real.  Be thankful for the opportunity to improve.

Attitude of Gratitude

How many times have you found yourself at work thinking, “If only_________ would happen, then I would be happy”? If only my boss wasn’t such a jerk.  If only my coworker wasn’t so lazy.  If only these clients weren’t so demanding.  We can’t control other people’s behavior, but we can absolutely control our responses to their behavior.  And this can, ironically, cause others to respond differently to us. Once I shifted the narrative inside my head toward gratitude, everything changed. Instead of frustration, stress and anger, I cleared space for creativity and strategic thinking.

 Several years ago, I worked with a client who turned out to be mentally unstable.  She took a medical leave shortly after we worked together, but during our project, her crazy was in full swing.  It was the most difficult consulting relationship I have ever had and I felt powerless and angry and frustrated.  There was no way around this person, so I called on my gratitude practice for help.  I focused on gratitude for the lessons I was learning in communication.  I focused on gratitude for my good reputation, so that even if this person spoke negatively of our experience, I knew I had a solid history of good work. I spent my energy on gratitude for the stability in my life and empathy for the difficulties this person was experiencing.  This didn’t make it any more fun to spend time with her, but my energy shifted from anger to compassion.  My attention shifted from frustration to constructive actions that made it possible to complete the project.  It sounds simplistic, but it really is that simple.  It’s about putting our energy into things that help instead of things that keep us trapped. 

How to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Think

Open and close each day with thoughts about something you are grateful for.

Speak

Incorporate gratitude into your language.  Tell friends and colleagues how grateful you are to have them in your world.  Start discussions with expressions of gratitude before moving on to points of disagreement or negotiation.  

Believe

Eventually (it won’t take long) you will see everything through a lens of gratitude and your energy will shift to thoughts and feelings that make you feel good instead of thoughts and feelings that make you feel bad.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Shortly after I began regular meditation practice, my sense of smell went on overdrive.  Suddenly I smelled every blossom, the freshness in the air, the sweetness of fresh fruit.  I have a friend who would win the “least likely to meditate” award.  She developed a sudden and perplexing illness and began learning about meditation and its role in stress reduction and the physical responses it elicits in our bodies.  For her, it was vision that went on overdrive when she started meditation practice.  Colors were more vivid and she noticed details she had never seen before. 

At work, this enhanced sensory perception impacted my perception of time. Things seemed to slow down when I paused to take it all in.  Those who know me will laugh at this.  My childhood nickname was “aguacero”, which means rain shower in Spanish. I move fast, talk fast, think fast. There is nothing about me that is slow. Except on the inside.  Suddenly, in the middle of a busy and stressful day, I would feel time stand still as I looked out at the rain outside my window. This sense of calm in the midst of the storm is important for those of us who want do to high-energy work and develop strategies for longevity. Just today, Elon Musk talked to the New York Times about the impact his work has on his personal life and his health.  He sounds miserable.  We can’t sprint through a marathon.  Pace matters and meditation sets our pace.  

How to Meditate

Breathe

You don’t have to make a big show of taking deep, cleansing breaths.  Just notice your breath and slow it down.  Do this before meetings, during discussions, before public speaking, or any time you want to calm your mind.

Put Down Your Tech

Next time you are in the checkout line at the grocery store, pause, breathe, put down your phone and look around.  Listen to the noise, smell the food, look at the people.  Take these few minutes as a gift and an opportunity to practice being in the moment when the stakes are not particularly high.

Practice, Practice, Practice

In her foundational book, How to Meditate, Pema Chodron talks about how she has been teaching meditation for more than 30 years, but she doesn’t feel like she’s very good at it.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you keep practicing.  The practice is where the change happens.  

Yali BairComment
Show Me The Money

I was involved in a wonderful Latina leadership program several years ago.  One of the exercises we did involved analyzing the state budget and making adjustments to address a $3.5 million deficit.  Our table groups of 8 women were tasked with creating spending priorities and coming up with a proposal to balance the budget.  I was stunned that only 3 of us at the table could read and interpret the budget tables.  The majority of the group did not understand that $1.2 million translates to one million, two hundred thousand dollars.  It took some discussion, but in the end, everyone got to a point where we could develop our proposal.

For me, the disturbing thing wasn’t the fact that some people didn’t know how to read the budget.  It was the implications of large groups of women not being able to engage with budgets. Whether we’re talking about the state budget, an organizational or departmental budget or our own personal budgets, knowing the numbers gives us power.

Nonprofit Quarterly offers a great webinar called Creating High-Functioning Nonprofits: Who Should Have What Financial Information? to help nonprofit leaders expand financial engagement in their organizations. Typically, the board and the executive team are the only people deeply engaged with budgets.  This webinar argues for expanding financial awareness and decision making to managers and program directors.  

There are three good reasons to engage more staff in financial decisions:

Create Fiscal Agility

How many times have you faced an unexpected budget crisis? A long-term funder changes direction. A building requires an unplanned major renovation.  Even without a crisis, budgets need ongoing adjustments so the organization can grow programs or take on new challenges.  When only a handful of people are involved in budgeting, the only way to make significant budget changes is through a top-down directive approach. Suddenly post-its become a rare commodity.  Staff are asked to do more with less.  There may be layoffs.  

Some of the organizations I have worked with have much broader fiscal engagement among their staff.  In these nonprofits, every manager and some directors have budget awareness, responsibility and in some cases authority.  Managers are trained in reading and interpreting budgets and in the factors that impact the organization’s finances.  They are required to review budgets regularly and make adjustments to stay on track.  They are held responsible for budget items that are under their purview. They are allowed budgetary discretion to test out ideas and implement changes.  In these organizations, major budget changes look very different than in a typical nonprofit.  Managers know their budgets so well, that they are able to make adjustments quickly and with a clear picture of the impact.  Because they are using budgets to drive daily decisions, these managers typically talk with their staff about organizational finances and create a team approach to making money decisions. 

Develop Staff Talent

More financial transparency translates into increased staff satisfaction.  Secretive, top-down budget cuts make staff members nervous.  The more staff understand about where their salaries come from and how they can impact those numbers, the more engaged they are in making smart fiscal decisions.  When staff members don’t understand the rationale behind budget choices, they can feel frustrated and underappreciated. I was on a nonprofit board that had significant issues with staff turnover. The organization was 100% donor funded and had a tight budget.  After engaging deeply in conversations with staff, the board voted to offer one week paid leave at the end of December.  To pay for this, the board, management and staff worked together to come up with some targeted budget cuts and committed to a specific percentage increase in fundraising.  Because the staff now understood how the budget came together and had a part in the decision-making, they were much more willing to put in extra work and were happy to make budget cuts where needed. 

Turnover is always a concern, but the more financial education a nonprofit provides to staff at multiple levels, the more talent will be available to fill higher level management and executive positions. I’m a big proponent of train-the-trainer models for staff training.  Supporting managers in training their staff not only improves capacity, but it grows a pool of talented staff who can more successfully move into new positions when they become available.

Grow Nonprofit Leaders

I was chatting with a lovely young woman at a wedding recently.  She was telling me that she worked for a nonprofit briefly after college, but that now she has a “real job” in the corporate sector.  I was a bit shocked by this because for me, nonprofits are exciting and innovative places filled with brilliant and passionate people.  We need to continue to support our people so that future nonprofit leaders can succeed and it will be impossible for them to do so without solid financial education.  I would be happy never to have another nonprofit client ask me to help them figure out how to make ends meet.  I want all my clients and all nonprofit leaders to confidently manage their budgets so they can get back to the work that really matters.

Whether you are a nonprofit board member, executive, manager or staff member, I urge you to advocate for expanded financial engagement in your organization.  It will change the way you think and work.  

 

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Boss

Sometimes I get tired of being inspired. Sometimes I get tired of those gorgeous Instagram-ready posters urging me to “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Boss”. Don’t get me wrong; I think that surrounding ourselves with reminders of our intentions can be useful and even inspirational.  But that’s not enough, and it’s not just the slogans that leave me dissatisfied. It’s the business books written by privileged white boys telling me that anyone can replicate their success stories.  It’s articles written by privileged women telling me that I can and should step up, lean in, go big, and be loud, without much mention of the gamble involved. It’s the unwritten assumption that stepping out of our comfort zones looks the same for everyone, when I know it doesn’t. 

It’s called a comfort zone for a reason.  It’s familiar, it feels safe and we think we are in control when we are in it.   Everyone’s comfort zone is a different size and shape.  Stepping outside of that place of safety comes with a different degree of risk for everyone.  The difference is in the gamble.  I have a colleague who has multiple Ivy League degrees, is a successful businesswoman, owns two homes and earns over a million dollars a year. I have another colleague who is a single mother, earns fifty thousand dollars a year working for a nonprofit and will probably never own a home.   Reaching outside their comfort zones might be equally scary for both women, but the actions and risks involved are quite different.  

I think we need to talk more about how to support risk-taking by all women, not just those who have a safety net of privilege.  I was talking with a friend the other day about the benefits of being a guest on podcasts.  She agreed that there is great visibility to be had from podcasting and mentioned quietly that she would need to be very careful about choosing a safe podcast host. My friend is a brilliant and accomplished African American woman.  She is driven and confident and takes personal and professional risks. And she has some experience with vulnerability.  When she hears, “get out of your comfort zone, and be a podcast guest”, she thinks about the gamble. She knows the risks associated with lending her voice to a white person’s narrative.  She is cognizant of the risk of being used as a token for ethnic diversity or of having her words be interpreted through a lens of racial bias.  These are risks that we, as white women, don’t have to think about because of the privilege afforded by the color of our skin.  There may be other risks we need to consider, but we don’t have to consider the nuances of persistent racial power dynamics when making routine business decisions.

If we want to promote true diversity in our workplaces, we have to be honest about what it really takes for women from all backgrounds to take risks. In my career, I’ve been in both positions of privilege and positions of vulnerability.  I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, sometimes intentionally and sometimes because a pivotal mentor pushed me there. Here are some of the things I have learned about what it takes to get outside our comfort zones when we don’t come from a stable, privileged position:

  1. It takes intention to create expectations for ourselves that are different than the ones we    have been given.
  2. It takes patience to continually push against our comfort zones rather than leaping over barriers.
  3. It takes practice doing small, scary things over and over until they become part of our comfort zones.
  4. It takes mentorship from people who can see our potential and are willing to push us to reach further.
  5. It takes support from people who believe in us and will help us get back up when we fall.
  6. It takes trust in ourselves to set realistic goals and trust in others to create a safety net when one isn’t available.
  7. It takes bravery to act on our vision, which is always, frustratingly, just outside the reach of our comfort zone.
Yali BairComment
What Do You Do?

What Do You Do?

 

One day, my 24-year old daughter came home from a business meeting asking for advice I couldn’t give.  She had met with her new boss and a contractor who needed to pass on some of his work to my daughter because he no longer had the time for it.  He was a bit older than her.  He proceeded to “mansplain” concepts she already understood because she has been doing this work for almost 5 years.  She wanted to tell him they could skip over what he was talking about and get to the discussion about how to transition the work, but she couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  She didn’t know what to do.  At home, she was upset and said, “Mom, I felt like I didn’t have a good choice.  I could keep quiet or I could interrupt and be seen as a rude and uppity millennial.  So I kept quiet.  What do you do?”  I had no answer.  I’m 50 years old and I still have no answer.  

Hillary Clinton’s most recent bookcalls out one particular moment during the 2016 election that will be seared in my mind forever.  It was during one of the debates, and her opponent was looming over her and following her around the stage like a guard in a basketball game.  My skin crawled and I wondered why she didn’t say something.

This is how she describes it:

“It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can't intimidate me, so back up.” 

I wish she had said it out loud. I think most of us have been in  “what do you do” moments and it’s really hard to make that call on the fly in moments of intense stress or scrutiny.  But I think this is a discussion that really needs to happen, beforewe are caught in the moment.  When I think about the times that I felt satisfied with my behavior and my performance, they are always the moments where I had the opportunity to practice.  Having a safe space, real or virtual, where we can test out different approaches, get honest feedback, or even rant to a supportive group before getting back to work can make all the difference.  

Now, when she knows she has a complex discussion coming up, my daughter sits down with me or other trusted advisors and practices what she wants to get across. She thinks through possible scenarios and gives herself time to have all the emotional responses in the safety of home instead of in front of an intimidating audience.  Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it sure makes us more confident. It’s a way to hit pause in advance and give ourselves a chance to develop a toolbox of skills that we can call on as needed.  Just knowing that we have some solutions up our sleeves can help us maintain our composure AND articulate what we want to get across. I don’t want my daughter or any other woman to ever have to choose between worrying that she will appear pushy or keeping quiet.  Neither of those are good choices. Creating safe practice spaces can open up more and better options for “what do you do” moments. 

Yali BairComment
A Good Story

I just finished reading  Bernadette Jiwa's wonderful book, Story Driven, in which she encourages businesses to use story to drive strategy.  In her book, Jiwa offers a simple framework for translating the organization's story into a future-looking strategy.  It starts with the narrative about how the organization came to be.  From this, the business creates its values (guiding beliefs), purpose (reason for being), and vision (aspirations for the future). Finally, the strategy which she writes, should "align opportunities, plans and behavior."

Nonprofits have great origin stories and most of them use these to achieve great fundraising success and to drive their strategic plans.  But I am sometimes surprised at how little of the organization's story actually drives its behavior.  Jiwa's book gives the example of VW and its recent emissions cheating fiasco.  She describes how the company's response to the problem was more problematic than the events themselves and how this reflected a bigger issue: the company's behavior was not reflecting its story.  One health care nonprofit I worked with years ago almost faced a board level civil war as it debated offering health insurance to its employees.  The organization had been dealing with significant employee turnover and staff had kind of a "grumpy" culture, which was evident to everyone who walked in the door.  Things came to a head when employees called out leadership for what they saw as a lack of support. The organization's mission was about ensuring access to health care for all, but staff and their families were not offered the opportunity to purchase health insurance through the employer.  This was an almost-medium-sized nonprofit, growing fast and at a critical inflection point in its finances.  Leadership was understandably worried about funding, but they felt hypocritical advocating for access to care while denying employees basic insurance coverage.  The board was split, with some members confessing that they had felt uneasy for years about the discrepancy between the organization's mission and its treatment of its own employees.  Others were adamant that finances came first, adopting a "no money, no mission" mantra.  For months, the board and leadership were at an impasse.

Fortunately, this organization had smart leadership.  The CEO and CFO put together a workgroup to come up with some options. The group included leadership, some board members on both sides of the "aisle" and some staff members.  They researched insurance brokers; they queried partner agencies of the same size in the same regions; they surveyed staff to get a sense of the most important benefits; and they came up with some cost-cutting options that would free up some funding that could be redirected.  Nine painful months later, the organization made some fundamental changes.  They brought the board to agreement on the benefits issue. They partnered with a group of other nonprofits to offer basic health insurance packages for employees and were able to cover a portion of the premiums due to the group purchasing power and the cost savings measures they implemented.  They continued to engage staff in discussions about evolving the benefits package and identifying other areas of support that would improve staff retention satisfaction. They did all of this by taking a deep breath and aligning their behavior to their story. 

Story Driven is really about for-profit corporations (big and small), but I found it had some great lessons for nonprofit audiences.  In the nonprofit world, stories are often so focused on the people and communities we are trying to serve that it's easy to forget about our commitments to the people who are doing the work every day.  Aligning story and behavior has never been more crucial as companies compete for talented employees and employees increasingly want to play a role in shaping their organizations' stories.   

 

Yali BairComment
Evoking Innovation in Nonprofits

Today a client asked me a question that I am asked a lot: “how do we engage our executive team to support this initiative?”  All of my nonprofit manager clients have creative strategies to get executive attention and support. But I started to think about WHY these strategies are necessary.  What could executive leaders do to support the creativity and initiative of their management teams without making them feel like children vying for parents’ attention? What would it look like for nonprofit organizations to maximize internal talent and resources by creating systems that evoke innovation? 

Here are 3 ways that nonprofit executive leaders can create a culture of innovation in their organizations:

1)   Create a strong and active strategic plan

I have facilitated countless strategic plans over the years and very few of them live on past the last planning session.  The organizations that do manage to embed their strategic goals into every day operations are so much more successful than those that leave the plan on a shelf.  If an organization has a strong strategic plan and EVERYONE knows and uses it, it becomes unnecessary for management to “sell” ideas to executive leaders.  Managers are able to articulate why a particular project or initiative does or does not advance the organization’s strategic goals. Executives are able to make efficient decisions about what to pursue, and maybe more importantly, what NOT to pursue.

 2)   Offer opportunities for authentic communication

We all suffer from too much inadequate communication in the workplace.  Rather than frequent, long and unproductive communication strategies, my most successful clients strive for targeted, efficient and honest communication.  I recently worked with one client that eliminated all staff and department meetings.  The organization moved instead to three new types of communication strategies. They implemented project-based “huddles” for teams to sort out issues and come to agreement on various decision points. This greatly improved the efficiency of their teams, since they were no longer waiting for whole departments to come together in order to move forward. Second, they started “afternoon tea” executive briefings so that the management team could come together and update executives on the status of various initiatives and brainstorm about new initiatives in a collaborative environment (and frame the discussions around an active strategic plan). Finally, they started a monthly all staff “lunch and learn” where one department presents something they are excited about to the rest of the group.  Their goal was to replace what they saw as the two goals of the old model staff meetings, to provide an opportunity for staff to get to know each other and to learn about what others are working on. 

3)   Provide clear expectations

We have all worked for leaders who seem fickle when making decisions.  Some of us may have been that leader.  Over the years, I have observed that executives who lay out clear expectations early and often are better equipped to execute visionary strategies.  One executive who led a large organization (and worked with several hundred stakeholder partners) always started conference calls by stating the five strategic goals of the organization.  This simple practice gave everyone time to pause and think about the bigger vision before diving into the details of the day.  Leaders who provide clear guidance to management teams are able to focus the energies and resources of their teams instead of leaving staff trying to guess at priorities and waste time pursuing dead ends.  

Yali BairComment
How to Be a Great Nonprofit Board Member

I really enjoy serving on and consulting with nonprofit boards.  There’s something wonderful about a group of people working together for the benefit of a cause that they all cherish.  It feels very different than a group of people working together because they are being paid to do so.  Of course, not all board experiences are wonderful.

Some boards feel like a group of pals having lunch together once a month, without accomplishing much of anything.  Brave boards set ambitious agendas and inspire members to joyously part with their time, talents and money. Coming on to a board as a new member can be fun, challenging, inspiring, intimidating, or all of the above.  Here are some tips for new board members on how to have a great board experience.

1)   Focus on the mission and the goals

Board membership is not about you.  Don't be an obnoxious benefactor. Great board members are laser focused on the mission of the organization, the people it serves, and its future.

2)   Be responsible and creative

As with almost anything, it’s helpful to learn the rules before deciding how to break them.  The most innovative board members take responsibility for learning the rules (bylaws, meeting guidelines, rules imposed by funders, etc…) so that they can be creative without putting the organization at risk.  I have seen board members who know so little about the rules governing the agency that they are useless in deliberations because they don’t have a clear grasp of the possibilities.  The National Council of Nonprofits offers some valuable resources for board members.

3)   Listen up and speak up 

Really effective boards are good at listening.  Boards that listen to their members, the organization’s staff and the community are much more effective than those that assume they know what’s best. Similarly, board members must be brave enough to speak up when they perceive something that might be harmful to the organization.  And the board as a whole must listen when members speak up.

4)   Share and learn

You were presumably asked to join the board because you have some talents to share.  Sharing your expertise and helping the organization evolve can be some of the most rewarding work of board membership.  I have worked with so many board members who are surprised by how much they actually learn from board participation. Boards can offer members connections, networking, new ideas, and a much deeper understanding of the issues and community.

5)   Give and ask

Most boards require members to donate to and raise funds for the organization.  While this can be intimidating to some new members, it can be a rewarding experience to see the collective impact on the organization and its mission.  BoardSource provides some wonderful resources for new board members who want to get comfortable with fundraising.   

6)   Work hard and enjoy!  This one is easy.

Yali BairComment
What AI Can Teach Us About Diversity

In 2015, I came across an articleabout a team at Rutgers University using an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to judge creativity in art.  In 2016, and AI algorithm called Beauty.AI judged an online beauty contest and nearly all the winners were white.  Last week, I read an article about researchers at Auckland University who have developed an AI algorithm to improve the response to child abuse reports. It’s obvious that if the algorithm is biased, the outcome of each of these projects will be biased. It’s no surprise that AI-driven decisions are reflect the experiences and world views of their creators. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about biased algorithms.  When I scan the shelves looking for books about leadership, the majority of volumes are written by men.  For the past three years, there have never been more than four (out of ten) books written by women listed on the monthly New York Times bestseller list in the business category. The average is 1.5. Even fewer are written by people of color.  Is it any surprise that our collective “cultural algorithm” of a successful leader looks like a white male? In 2017, Beauty.AI introduced Diversity.AI to address the baked-in bias in the first contest.  Others are looking to increased transparency to address public accountability for AI decisions. Nonprofits and small businesses may not (yet) be using AI to drive their work, but we should not ignore the lessons we are being offered about baked-in bias and diversity. 

All organizations have systems and policies that have the potential to perpetuate widespread and long-term bias.  Most of my nonprofit clients want to create leadership pipelines in their organizations. Some have implemented mentorship programs or formal management training opportunities to encourage staff to take on new challenges and to create a talent pool for promotion.  These initiatives can be valuable opportunities to help staff develop new skills and grow in their roles, but they can also perpetuate the organizations’ baked in biases.  I have seen organizations exclude part-time employees or those who are new to the organization from participating in these programs.  While there are good reasons for these exclusions, they can also result in missed opportunities for the employees and the organizations. Systematically excluding part-time employees can systematically exclude women who have returned to work after maternity leave or employees who are enrolled in college or postgraduate programs. Excluding new employees means that some people will leave the organization before being given a chance to participate in leadership development programs.  Both of these exclusions very often leave out women, younger workers and people of color.  Organizations leave a lot of talent on the table when they implement narrow algorithms that reflect institutional bias.  Investing in a thoughtful a process to assess baked-in bias can lead to lasting value for any organization and can have a proportionately big impact on smaller businesses that need to maximize all the talents and resources at their disposal.

Yali BairComment