In this episode of The Intersection, we look at the presence of unconscious bias in the workplace and discuss the importance of changing the perception of bias at an organizational level.
Podcast: Unconscious bias: Making changes at scale
We’re excited to bring you new episodes of our podcast, The Intersection. Join us here, where investments and technology meet, as thought leaders and movers and shakers come together to discuss what’s shaping the future of business, community and culture.
In this episode, Joe Riddle, Director at Neurodiversity in the Workplace joins Krista Deguffroy in a fascinating conversation about unconscious bias. Their discussion focuses on the presence of bias in the workplace and the impact it can have on an individual’s professional and personal life. Krista and Joe also share actionable steps that can be taken to help mitigate these biases.
Enjoy episode 11.
Speaker 1: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us back at The Intersection, a podcast that brings you candid conversations with members of our community and leaders in our industry. Enjoy today's episode.
Speaker 2: Hello and welcome. Today we're joined by Joe Riddle, Director at Neurodiversity in the Workplace. I've asked you Joe to join us today to talk about how bias impacts organizations and what we can all do around inclusive leadership, culture, and belonging. Joe, thanks for joining us today.
Joe Riddle: Great to be here. Thanks.
Speaker 2: Well, we're really happy to have you on The Intersection, especially in celebration of the Seventh Annual SEI Women's Network Summit.
Joe Riddle: Yeah, I'm really excited to be here and I'm thrilled that you're doing that topic.
Speaker 2: To kick off our conversation today, I was hoping you could tell our listeners a little bit about your role and your tenure to date.
Joe Riddle: Sure. Yeah. So one of the things that I've been working on is, I come from an organization called Neurodiversity in the Workplace. And we're a small nonprofit based in Philadelphia. And our goal is to make neurodiversity an integral part of the workforce. We're part of a larger non-profit disability service provider called Spark Philadelphia. And we're really looking to partner with companies and we worked with SEI. We had a great partnership to help develop neurodiversity programs. And what we mean by that is helping people who are typically left out of the traditional interview process. Our programs focus on neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism or dyslexia or ADD or ADHD, and we help them reshape and retool the hiring process. We help our company partners retool the hiring process to allow better avenues for neurodivergent candidates to come through their doors.
Speaker 2: I have to ask, when you look back at the beginning of your career, are you surprised where you've end up? Did you think you'd end up in a career focusing on belonging and inclusion?
Joe Riddle: I did not think I would end up in a career focusing on that. I think that I'm very surprised. I have a background in public health and public health focuses on these systems and how they work with each other and it really focuses on how to prevent problems. And so I always thought I would work in public health solving health problems, but I think that it's not that far of a stretch, but it is surprising, this journey that I've come on because public health looks at how to prevent these problems, how to make sure that we're accounting for inequities that happen in any system. And I think that one of the things that we're trying to do in our work with neurodiversity in the workplace is to try and prevent some of these inequities in how talent acquisition works and how people are let into companies. I think that for me, that is aligned even though I had no expectation of actually going there as a career.
Speaker 2: Well, I have to say, I'm personally thankful that you did, but I want to talk about unconscious bias. So that's the topic of today's podcast and really how it impacts our professional and our personal lives. So while I know there's plenty of material and definitions out there around unconscious bias, can you summarize what it means to you?
Joe Riddle: Yeah. I think that this is something that we're dealing with every day when it comes to neurodivergent hiring. There's so much bias that anyone has going on in their head without realizing it. I think that that's really the definition of the topic. We have these things, we have these ways of judging people or gauging what they're capable of without really knowing that we're engaging in that judgment. I think when one of the things that we look at is the typical interview process, like I mentioned, and it really relies on these outdated metrics for passing an interview. I think so often we have this bias towards someone who is this 1950s-esque Mad Men, smooth talker person, and we want that to be the model for all of our interviews. And that's just illogical and doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when we look at the job that we're hiring for.
Now maybe if we're hiring for an ad executive, that makes sense. But so often we're not. And so I think that helping people see that when we're looking at unconscious bias, we want to look at what skills people are bringing to the table. And one of our missions is to promote skill-based hiring. Talking about unconscious bias, we can hopefully remove that bias, that accidental judgment that's passed on people. If we just look at the facts of what that person's capable of, what skills they're going to bring to the table, I think that that allows us to be a little bit more biased.
Speaker 2: It's interesting that you say that because we do want to get past those accidental judgements and things, you're right. We might not even realize that we're engaging in that behavior. And I'm not sure for you, but it's been my experience that people are apprehensive to either disclose something about themselves or feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work because how it could change people's perceptions. I want to ask you, is there something that we all could do to help foster a safe place for others?
Joe Riddle: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the biggest thing is what you're doing right now and what you're doing with the Women's Leadership Network is talking about inequities, talking about differences. So often our social culture dictates us to sweep things under the rug that aren't necessary and immediately pending to the business transaction at hand, and that doesn't help. And I think that in disability service provision, what we do is we encourage people to disclose any information about themselves, especially if it's a disability, to get access to help, but people have had so many past traumas by doing that exact act. And so it's unfair to think that everyone will just willingly do that. But I think that it's because we're not talking about it enough. We're not talking about the inequities that happen. We're not talking about people's perceptions of XYZ enough.
Now, lately in our business culture, this has been happening more and more and that's progress, but we need to make it more granular. We need to make it more ingrained into everyday business transactions, so that people are willing to say something about themselves that they wouldn't normally, because it doesn't fit into that 1950s stereotype of what a perfect work culture would be. I think that one thing that's really interesting right now, especially in the pandemic, we've shifted how we work and how we operate. And I think that it has allowed people to bring more of themselves into work because they're at home often while they're working. And so we've had colleagues share stories about their family members. We've had them share stories about their activities and routines and hobbies, things that would never have been shared before, even mentioned, because it wasn't relevant to the task at hand. But again, if we can look at the tasks at hand and bring more of ourselves to them, bring more of our differences to them, I think that we can hopefully make that apprehension go away for people.
Speaker 2: I want to revisit a point you mentioned about public health and using science and research to solve problems as they come or prevent problems from occurring. It's interesting because research says that it's almost impossible to cure individuals of bias. However, it's a lot easier to move the needle when you talk about bias at scale, meaning changing the perception of bias at an organizational level. What are your thoughts on that topic?
Joe Riddle: Yeah, I think that that research makes a whole lot of sense when you're thinking of how we can make changes at scale, and that really is related to public health. And I think that one of the things we need more access to is data. We need data on how people are feeling included and how people are feeling excluded in the workplace. And across the board in many different industries, that data's not available. We have some general surveys. We have some research on that. There's a lot of great places that are doing more research on inclusion and inclusion data, but we need a lot more. And I think that one of the things, from your previous question, talking about why people don't want to disclose, I mention this because we're not talking about it enough. And I think that we need business to talk about this more and we need it to inform research, led by businesses, led by academic institutions to further explain and understand how systems can change for the better, knowing that it's so hard to change an individual bias, but we have that promising research about how we can change as a group.
And I think that for me, especially coming from a public health background, we need to try more things. We need to test more things and actually have it be implemented and piloted, and then recorded and studied so that we can approach this like we do any other business transaction. We can approach it logically and methodically to hopefully get to where we're going.
Speaker 2: Speaking of data, I'm going to ask you about what happens when we have the absence of data, which is when we come up with myths and theories. There's a lot of myths around unconscious bias. What's maybe one myth you'd like to dispel for our listeners?
Joe Riddle: I love this question because when we're talking about unconscious bias, there is this huge looming thing that so many people, whether it's from any walk of life, whether it's a company representative, whether it's someone in disability services, in a nonprofit dealing with unconscious bias, there's this misconception that there's a drain on a company's bottom line by implementing diversity and inclusion programs or inclusion programs of any sort, and that's just completely wrong and untrue. There is a benefit for companies to engage in inclusion work, to try and make their talent pool more diverse. There's so many benefits to that.
I think that for me, it's really interesting when we look at kind of the big word, innovation, it's a very catchy word that people throw around a lot, but in talent acquisition, innovation has been lacking. And I think that for so long, other fields, other divisions within companies, technology, finance, how we meet with each other, how we do business, how we communicate has the innovation in those sectors has far out tasked how we evaluate qualified candidates for our roles.
And I think that because of that, we aren't aware of the ability and the qualified experience that people who are coming from diverse backgrounds will bring to the table. And so it fuels this myth because we don't know about it. We don't understand it. But there's some studies out there now, again, not too many, that show that companies have higher earnings when they're more inclusive, that they have better employee retention. And those are widely stated. But I think that if you were to take a full survey, an honest survey of many company executives across the world, they wouldn't quite understand that yet. And so I think that this is one myth that continues to be put out there and we need to do our best to try and fix that.
Speaker 2: So I want to ask you a little bit now focusing on the Women's Network Summit that we're having. So the Summit is designed to be a toolkit for both personal and professional leadership. So how does addressing bias fit into a leadership toolkit?
Joe Riddle: That's a great question. I think when we're looking at a leadership toolkit, really any toolkit designed to advance how we're doing in our careers, I think that when we look at that and we compare it to how bias has excluded other people, I think that that's a really meaningful comparison for people to make who are in a leadership role. And I think that when we look at any kind of leadership toolkit, understanding where bias should be talked about and when, which is frequently and everywhere, we can hopefully make a lot of progress towards helping people be more effective leaders.
Speaker 2: All right, Joe. So before we move on to our next segment, I have a personal question for you. Currently in the Women's Network Summit, we're celebrating the sheroes in our workplaces and our communities. Who is a shero to you? And what's a leadership lesson that they've taught you?
Joe Riddle: That's a great question. So a shero to me, one that's sticking out in my head right now, who I keep thinking about is the late Associate Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her role in really the world understanding gender roles within society was one of the biggest steps, one of the most passionate advocates that we could have hoped for. I think that her recent passing highlights the work that she's done. And I think that understanding that before her, even in our legal wording and how laws were structured, women were looked on differently and she really impacted that. And so I think that she's definitely a shero that stands out to me right now.
Speaker 2: You just got five bonus points in my book, as RBG is certainly a shero in my mind, too. So, Joe, I've really enjoyed having you on The Intersection today, but I hope to end our conversation with a fun game of This or That. It's pretty simple. I'm going to ask you to make a choice and not give you too much time to think. So are you ready?
Joe Riddle: Yeah, I'm ready.
Speaker 2: Okay. So number one, turkey, light or dark meat?
Joe Riddle: Oh, light meat, I think, yeah. We don't even eat turkey in my family on Thanksgiving. We have spaghetti for some reason. So I'm going to answer that question with spaghetti.
Speaker 2: Okay. A place to escape, beach or mountains?
Joe Riddle: Beach. That would be me.
Speaker 2: Hot chocolate, marshmallows or plain?
Joe Riddle: Oh, definitely plain. I like the smooth, hot chocolate consistency. I don't want those marshmallows in there.
Speaker 2: The most productive time of day, early bird or night owl?
Joe Riddle: Definitely a night owl, which isn't always fun when you realize you can only focus at night, but definitely a night owl.
Speaker 2: And last one and probably the biggest dividing line between us is holiday lights, white or multicolor?
Joe Riddle: I'm going to go with white.
Speaker 2: So we agree on nothing.
Joe Riddle: Oh, no.
Speaker 2: But luckily we are focused on inclusion, so I will accept your answers even though I think they might be wrong.
Joe Riddle: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Speaker 2: But Joe, thank you so much for your time today. We had a great discussion on belonging, unconscious bias, and really most importantly, what we can all do to make positive change. We appreciate you being here.
Joe Riddle: Thanks for having me. This was great.
Speaker 1: Thanks for joining us again for this special episode in celebration of our Women's Network Annual Leadership Summit. Stay tuned for more conversations with members of our community. Until next time, be well. And of course, we hope you'll meet us back at The Intersection soon.
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