Bias Cuts into the Bottom Line

When some execs hear about diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, their first thought is of incremental costs. However, not having D&I is far more expensive. Indeed, a lack of D&I not only increases costs but also decreases the potential for revenue growth.

Increased Costs

Bias in the workplace, a major barrier to developing D&I, raises costs. Turnover costs at least 20% of a position’s annual salary, and biased behavior in the workplace causes some employees to exit faster than they otherwise would. One in four doctors from non-dominant groups reported leaving positions due to biased behavior, with some even saying they considered leaving medicine altogether.

Businesses that achieve genuine inclusion can recruit from a much wider candidate pool to acquire the best employees. With the shifting demographics in the US, a true commitment to D&I functions as a significant competitive advantage for companies that can attain it.

Reduced Revenue Potential

Revenue growth potential suffers without diversity. As reported in the Financial Times, extensive research shows that diverse companies were 45% more likely than their peers to have grown their market share. What’s more, diverse companies were 70% more likely to have captured new markets.

That should come as little surprise. With ever-increasing global diversity, companies that embrace diversity can better target potential consumers. In fact, when teams have members who belong to the same identities as target consumers, the whole team is 158% more likely to know the habits and attitude of these consumers. The team can then adjust marketing and even the products themselves to best suit these consumers.

The key lesson is that companies that embrace D&I experience better financial results. In its report “Why Diversity Matters”, McKinsey notes that companies in the upper quartile in terms of gender and racial diversity achieve higher profits than those that have less diversity.

What Not to Do

Some companies embark on a slapdash, ad-hoc approach to D&I. They might put up table tents in the cafeteria, bring in a speaker for an all-company presentation once or twice, and put a policy about D&I on their website. Then they’re surprised when D&I fail to materialize.

These cursory efforts fail more often than not. They can actually backfire and reduce productivity and teamwork in a company.

Harvard has documented how other traditional means of addressing this issue (e.g. mandatory diversity training and grievance systems) can backfire as well. These approaches fail because they don’t address the root problems of ignorance and unconscious bias.

How to Achieve Greater D&I

We can’t assume that leaders naturally know how to go about creating a culture that embraces diversity. Leaders need to be properly trained in how to structure organizations, teams, and processes so they’re capable of fostering diversity.

Additionally, everyone in the company needs to reduce their unconscious biases through mindfulness training, so they can be inclusive toward those who differ from them. My TED talk that I gave recently at the University of Wisconsin explains how and why mindfulness has such a huge impact on bias. Mindfulness training also offers a host of other benefits, which makes gaining internal buy-in for this part of the new approach easier.

This approach does require sustained commitment. Each company should go into such an undertaking with eyes wide open. If they follow through, they’ll be the richer for it.

Self-compassion Makes You Stronger

Self-compassion may call to mind weakness or fragility, the inability to cope with life’s harsh truths and situations. It may evoke images of people who hug themselves, speak breathlessly of raising self-esteem, and become overwhelmed at the challenge of parallel parking.  

I’ve covered elsewhere how beneficial it is for you to take care of others, but what about taking care of yourself?

Self-compassion vs. Self-esteem

Many people think self-compassion is synonymous with self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to your opinion of your own worth. The problem is that people compare themselves with others to determine their worth. As Teddy Roosevelt said a century ago, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Research has confirmed Roosevelt’s sentiment by finding that self-compassion trumps self-esteem for producing emotional intelligence. This emotional intelligence includes greater stability and regulation of one’s own emotions. A pair of studies showed that students who had self-compassion also had healthy coping strategies for dealing with failure.

Other studies have shown that self-compassion allows people to handle negative situations and emotions with fewer of the problems of self-esteem, such as narcissism or defensiveness. Self-compassion has been linked to personal initiative, curiosity, conscientiousness, and happiness.

Benefits of Self-compassion

Self-compassion is simply taking care of yourself. Through awareness of your physical, mental, and emotional condition, you identify your needs and address them. You don’t beat yourself up over failure. Instead, you recognize that failure is a universal experience.

In case you’re worried that you’ll shy away from challenge if you embrace self-compassion, relax. The pair of studies referenced above indicate that those who have self-compassion are less likely to avoid challenges. Why? The studies don’t say, but I suspect it’s because they understand that failure is a part of life and a key to learning.

If you’ve been raised to believe that you need to put others ahead of yourself, keep in mind that you can’t give what you don’t have. In other words, in the long run, you can’t take care of others very well (or at all) if you’re not taking care of yourself. So let go of the guilt and start doing what you must to take care of your own needs.

How to Practice Self-compassion

Easier said than done, right? A key way to grow your capacity for compassion is to practice mindfulness. Doing so develops your awareness of your needs as well as others’ needs. Dr. Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin has shown how compassion can be cultivated through mindfulness, actually changing the physical structures of our brains for the better.

Try the exercise below to rewire your brain for self-compassion once or more per day for a few weeks. You’ll make yourself better able to handle failure, regulate your emotions, and enjoy life.

  1. Sit comfortably. Close your eyes to stay focused. Take several deep, slow breaths to settle yourself.

  2. Silently say the following phrases to yourself: May I be safe and free from suffering. May I be happy and healthy. May I have peace and well being.

  3. Repeat the phrases, pausing after each one and noticing what you sense in yourself.

  4. Call to mind someone, past or present, who has cared about you unconditionally. It could even be a pet. Recall their compassion for you. With their compassion for you fresh in your mind, repeat the phrases again.

  5. Take a few more deep, slow breaths.

  6. Vow to notice your needs throughout the day and to take action to meet them.

Savor the Good

Besides “Packers win!” or “free lunch”, what two words might make you feel better if you heard them? A genuine “thank you” does the trick for many of us.

People gobble up expressions of gratitude, not because they know the scientific research that supports its benefits, but because they know gratitude makes them feel better. Gratitude not only makes the person receiving it feel better but also the person giving it.

Why Practice Gratitude

Like compassion, gratitude yields tremendous benefits to the giver. People who practice gratitude feel happier, an outcome that is reward enough to offer thanks. Gratitude is a perfect antidote for our negativity bias since it engages our minds in contemplating what goodness fills our lives rather than counting our weals and woes.

Similarly, a dose of gratitude lessens anxiety. If you’re focusing on what’s going right in your life, you’re training your brain to look for the good in the present moment, not fret and stress about what might go wrong in the future. 

Little wonder then that those who practice gratitude sleep better. By reminding ourselves of the good, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “rest-and-digest” response, the opposite of “fight or flight”. (If you’re struggling with sleeplessness, try these practices.)

Gratitude strengthens relationships. As people express gratitude, they alter their perceptions of their partners. The very act of expressing gratitude pulls the focus off the negative and onto the positive, engendering a feeling of community and attachment.

Last, gratitude improves physical health. Given the better sleep, reduced anxiety, increased happiness, and strengthened relationship, this outcome probably doesn’t come as a surprise.

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Don’t wait till next Thanksgiving to see what gratitude can do for you. Try one of the more below for a week and see what difference it makes.

  • Start with a short mindfulness practice to focus you (instructions at bottom of this link), and then take three minutes to silently name things for which you’re grateful.

  • Write a thank-you and send it.

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Add three new things for which you’re grateful every day.

  • Thank three people each day in person for something specific they’ve done.

How to Attain Better Parenting through More Patience

Juice spilled on your keyboard. Nights filled with inconsolable babies. Shouting and pushing between siblings vying for your attention. Parenting presents a steady barrage of challenges that often strains your capacity to be calm and reasonable.

Growing your supply of patience would help you maintain composure. An extensive study involving over four hundred families points to a key way you could bulk up on patience in order to better function as a parent.

Published in Developmental Psychology, the study compared three approaches to parenting: 1) the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), 2) the SFP modified to include mindfulness training, and 3) minimal intervention to serve as a control group.

The SFP has been empirically validated to be effective in prior studies, and it proved effective again, improving parent-child relationships, the ability of parents to manage their children’s behavior, and the well-being of the parents themselves.

However, the blended SFP and mindfulness approach proved as effective on the whole as the SFP by itself and actually exceeded the SFP in several areas. The most notable improvement was the results from fathers. They showed more emotional understanding and compassion for their children in the blended approach, as well as more listening with complete attention.

Greater emotional intelligence, which mindfulness has been shown to cultivate, likely underlies this improvement. Patience is a key element of emotional intelligence. It’s what gives us the wherewithal to slow down enough to observe and to listen so we can understand and better care for our children.

While patience won’t make you immune to frustration, it will give you a greater capacity for managing the daily challenges of parenting and life’s other obligations. Practice mindfulness for a few weeks (instructions at bottom of this link) and discover what it can do for you.

How to Win Together: What Google Learned about Successful Teams

Over the past 5 years, Google conducted a deep dive into what makes the most effective teams. What they discovered will likely come as a surprise to many -- psychological confidence is the key indicator of successful teams.

A recent Harvard Business Review study noted that in the last 20 years, “the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.”  As one of those companies that employs a collaborative approach to work, Google’s focus on optimizing teamwork makes perfect sense.

Google tries to “Google” the Answer

Google began its study by examining and analyzing its massive collection of employee data. During a study that Google called “Project Aristotle”, researchers sliced and diced the data in countless ways in search of commonalities between successful teams.  However, after examining 180 teams, Google was unable identify the magic trait that determines team effectiveness.

Psychological Safety Makes Teams Successful

Stymied through its own research, Google turned to academic studies, where researchers discovered the notion that psychological safety is crucial to team success. After running its own confirmatory study, Google was shocked to find that the degree to which members experienced psychological safety predicted the success of their teams across the company.

Psychological safety was comprised of two key features: 1) team members exhibited empathy toward each other and 2) members felt comfortable sharing their thoughts, so much so that everyone had roughly equal time to speak in meetings.

The first feature, empathy, unlocks the potential for the second feature, because once a person understands and shares the feelings of others, he or she will want to engage them and encourage them to share their thoughts.

However, cultivating empathy poses a substantial challenge. After all, understanding and sharing the feelings of others seems far too personal to belong in the workplace for many employees.

How to Create More Empathy

To grow empathy, organizations have a proven method available to them. At the heart of growing empathy is growing emotional intelligence, knowing and being able to handle one’s own emotions and those of others.

A surefire way to boost emotional intelligence is practicing mindfulness. By working on being present and not judging, practitioners develop their ability to listen and observe others, as well as understand others on their terms rather than imposing preconceptions onto them.

If teams were to practice mindfulness together, the results could be even more impressive. Beginning a meeting with just five minutes of mindfulness practice could transform how members regard each other and hence how well they work together.

Try practicing mindfulness (see instructions below) with one of your work teams for a month. Practice on your own every day that you’re not meeting and encourage your teammates to do the same.

Mindfulness Breathing Practice

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes if you think you’ll be distracted by what you see.

  2. Pay attention to your breathing. Notice what breathing in and out feels like in your body, and how those sensations can change. You can focus on your torso or the sensation of air moving in and out of your nostrils. No need to change your breathing in any way; just be aware of your breathing.

  3. Your mind will wander. That’s okay. Every time you notice your mind wandering, just bring your attention back to your breathing. If it helps, count each breath till you hit ten, and then start over.

  4. After five minutes, end your practice. Tell yourself to bring the focus and presence with you into the rest of your day.

Terrified by Public Speaking? Conquer Your Fear One Breath at a Time

As Jerry Seinfeld notes, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death.” Seinfeld asks, “Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Speaking in front of others terrifies most of us. Indeed, few of us can brave speaking to large audiences, let alone trying to be funny to a crowd of unfamiliar faces as comedians like Seinfeld do. Our hearts batter our ribs, our palms slicken with sweat, our mouths dry, and our stomachs churn like boiling water. Worse yet, our thoughts scatter like threads in a hurricane, leaving us struggling to stitch together a complete sentence, much less a whole speech.

Telling ourselves to calm down does nothing. In fact, doing this can exacerbate our anxiety as our failure to control our thoughts heightens our sense of helplessness. If you have the presence of mind, you could try the old trick of picturing people in the crowd naked. However, if you are like me and many others, odds are that you’re more likely to sweat and fret as you choke on your anxiety.

While scripting and rehearsing can certainly help with the speech, there’s another technique that will calm your nerves and give you the poise you need to deliver your message eloquently. You can achieve presence of mind without resorting to self-talk or old tricks.

One Breath at a Time

Having presence of mind just amounts to being present, or focusing on what’s right in front of you at this moment. Acquiring this presence of mind doesn’t require a significant time commitment or a herculean effort. Rather, becoming present through practicing mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on your breathing, one breath at a time for a few minutes per day (see instructions below).

While practicing mindfulness won’t completely erase your fear, it will give you some perspective on your emotions so they don’t snowball and so you can stay in control to perform better. You can apply this practice to deal with other difficult emotions, such as anger or sorrow.

Start with what you can handle, perhaps five minutes a day, and experiment as time progresses to see what the optimal duration is for you.

Breath Practice

  1. Find a quiet space. Sit comfortably with your spine straight and away from the back of the chair but your shoulders relaxed.

  2. Close your eyes if you think you’ll be distracted with what you see. Otherwise, just lower your gaze.

  3. Breathe normally. Focus on the changing physical sensations of each in breath and each out breath. Where do you feel it the most? In your abdomen? Focus on those sensations.

  4. If it helps to keep you focused, count each in breath and each out breath, and start over when you hit ten until you’re finished.

  5. When your mind wanders, don’t beat yourself up. Just bring your attention back to your breathing.

Keith Ryniak, Director at American Family, Explains Benefits of Mindfulness

Keith Ryniak, Business Director for Agency Strategy at American Family Insurance, shared how mindfulness has benefited him both professionally and personally so that other professionals might enjoy the same benefits.

Outside of work, Keith is a typical guy; he is a die-hard Chicago sports fan, spends his weekends with his wife and daughters, and enjoys the occasional cigar and glass of wine. At work, Keith is a prominent leader, responsible for developing long-range strategic plans for nearly 3,000 business owners. Keith is a driven individual, relishing every business challenge he comes across.

However, he’s found it challenging to enjoy the present moment, admitting that “business is my default mode, and it’s hard for me to get out.”

To help him, a colleague recommended mindfulness, which is a way to be present. He soon took up practicing mindfulness through meditation for 15 minutes before exercising in the morning. Keith discovered that not only did he gain benefits for his home life, but he also found mindfulness benefitting him professionally.

In his work world, Keith noticed he was “responding versus reacting” much more. He wasn’t allowing stress to dictate how he handled challenges. Instead, he was able to slow down his thinking to choose the best option available rather than acting out of habit.

Keith notes that individuals and organizations who practice mindfulness produce better results due to being able to slow down and clearly assess situations. He likens professionals who practice mindfulness to athletes who don’t succumb to the pressures of the game, giving them the ability to triumph.

In meetings, Keith finds that mindfulness helps him refocus. Meetings that last two hours or longer can test anyone’s attention. When his mind wanders, he brings it back to the matter at hand with a simple exercise that he learned from an Army sniper. This sharpshooter used a mindfulness technique called SLLS: Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell. Focusing on one’s senses -- not what one thinks about those experiences, but the raw sensations themselves -- brings one back to the present moment.

Keith notes that another benefit of mindfulness is that “as a leader, it helps you engage better with your team.” With all the demands placed on them at work, “employees are running a million miles an hour, and leaders are running a million miles an hour as well.” Mindfulness allows Keith to slow down enough to actually connect with his team.

The greatest benefit Keith has experienced, however, has been personal. Being able to give his “undivided attention to family” has been a huge payoff. Now he can fully be present and enjoy time with his family, including evenings and vacations, without constantly thinking about work. He’s also experienced a “leveling out” of his emotions; he still experiences strong positive emotions, but the negative emotions aren’t as low.

Keith encourages other professionals to try mindfulness. He recommends they educate themselves to go beyond misconceptions, the biggest of which is that mindfulness is religious. He notes that it can be completely secular; one doesn’t need incense, special clothing, or any particular beliefs in order to practice.

Keith notes that “unless you make it a priority, it’s tough to do.” To prioritize practicing, he advises people to fit it into their schedules wherever it is most convenient and make it a habit. He has noticed that the long-term benefits have been the greatest for him, so he recommends people stick with the practice for a while to see what lasting impact it has on them.

Keith found that he can “stop and smell the roses” thanks to mindfulness, something we could all enjoy.

How to Avoid Getting Sick this Winter

Winter is coming, and you don’t have to be a Stark to know that you had better prepare.

Sickness all too often accompanies winter, and reminders are ramping up for traditional preventative measures: flu shots, vitamin C, washing hands, minimizing contact with sick folks, and the like.

While I’d never discourage anyone from availing themselves of these measures, there’s one that you may not considered.

Researchers at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin discovered that participants in a study who practiced mindfulness for only eight weeks responded much better to a flu vaccine than those who didn’t. After being injected with the flu vaccine, mindfulness practitioners produced significantly higher antibodies.

A review of twenty randomized control trials that examined the effect of practicing mindfulness on one’s physical health concluded that these trials indicated mindfulness likely boosts the immune system. Although more testing is needed to say that definitively, practicing mindfulness shows great promise for improving our health.

In my own experience, I’ve found that practicing mindfulness has vastly reduced how often I get sick. When I was a classroom teacher, I was exposed to plenty of germs and would fall ill at least 4 or 5 times per year. Since I started practicing mindfulness, I noticed that I get sick at most once per year.

The connection between mindfulness and our immune systems might seem ridiculous at first glance. After all, what good could sitting there, doing nothing, do for us?

While practicing mindfulness can be a stationary endeavor, we are actually doing something when we practice. We’re cultivating better, more regular awareness of ourselves. This awareness includes our bodies so we can detect when something is beginning to go wrong much sooner.

The more I’ve practiced, the more in tune I’ve become with my body, meaning that I notice when my body is starting to feel rundown and hence more vulnerable to illness. I can take steps to prevent myself from getting sick, such as drinking more fluid, getting more sleep, and cutting back on physical activity. Taking these steps works most of the time, leaving me healthier and able to enjoy my life more.

Since mindfulness also helps with sleep and other issues, practicing it can strengthen your immune system in other ways. Instructions for how to practice are at the bottom of this link.

Give it a shot. You might just save yourself some sneezing and coughing this winter.