One of the nation’s leading experts on workplace diversity, cross-cultural business, and bias reduction.
Dr. Sondra Thiederman is one of the nation’s leading experts on workplace diversity, cross-cultural business, and bias reduction. As President of Cross-Cultural Communications, a San Diego based training firm, Sondra has 25 years experience as a speaker, trainer, and author helping professionals in Fortune 500 companies, public sector organizations, and dozens of associations find ways to successfully navigate our increasingly-diverse workplaces.
Since receiving her doctorate with an emphasis on cross-cultural studies from UCLA, Sondra has helped hundreds of organizations develop solutions to their cross-cultural and diversity challenges. Among her clients are such leading organizations as Sodexho, Xerox Corporation, The Boeing Company, FedEx Corporation, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Marriott Corporation, Century 21 Real Estate, American Express, The Federal Reserve Bank, Motorola, and AT&T. She has also addressed notable associations including the Arthritis Foundation, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the American Society of Association Executives, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. In addition, she has served as consultant to the University of California and the American Cancer Society and has been appointed by Elizabeth Dole to serve on the Diversity Cabinet of the American Red Cross.
Sondra has extensive media experience including mention in such national publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and U.S.A Today. She is published in professional journals ranging from T&D to Real Estate Today to Association Management, has written on diversity for the web site Monster.com, and is the author of four books including the groundbreaking, Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace. Most recently, she has completed work on the training video Is It Bias? Making Diversity Work which is available through Learning Communications
What do you think of these statements?
1. “All Latinos are experts in Latino culture.”
2. “All Gay men are artistic.”
3. “All women are naturally nurturing.”
4. “All Asians are good at math.”
5. “All black men are athletic.” Read more
Franklin Roosevelt was President, the Great Depression was raging, and Jean Harlow was the reigning queen of Hollywood – all this while the first serious studies of unconscious bias and prejudice began to emerge. In particular, much of the focus of this 1930’s research was on answering this central question:
Can contact between groups reduce prejudice and defeat unconscious bias? Read more
After immersing myself in the study of unconscious bias for the last decade, I have come to believe that there is a great deal we can do both to minimize the acquisition of biases and to defeat them. For that reason, most of what I write and speak about is designed to teach and reinforce an optimistic view. Read more
Though it’s been a well understood concept for some time, in recent years unconscious bias been the subject of increased attention. Several highly regarded studies have examined the impact of stereotypes and bias in the workplace and society at large, and point to unconscious bias as a key factor.
Don’t you just hate powerlessness? Speaking strictly for me, the sense that I can’t control something is one of my least favorite feelings. Let’s face it: there are many things in life that we can’t control, but lucky for us, bias isn’t one of them. I am happy to announce that research has shown there’s an awful lot we can to do defeat the unconscious biases that plague our workplaces and prevent us from treating each other with respect.
Let’s face it, biases are creepy. They lurk in our unconscious minds just waiting to pop up in the form of disrespectful actions or miss-guided decisions about who people are, what they need, and what they are good at. To make matters worse, this “popping up” is most apt to happen when we are the busiest which, paradoxically, is often the very time that making the correct decision is most important. Read more
Let’s admit it, working with and leading folks who think, look, talk, and live different from us can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes we don’t quite know what to say, how to say it, or even how to feel. All that uncertainty can accumulate until we find ourselves downright afraid – afraid to act, afraid to speak, afraid to make decisions. Read more
Do you have any moments in your past that still make you wince with discomfort? I sure do. The three I am thinking of (and wincing about) right now involve times when I inadvertently said something that offended someone or hurt their feelings. Read more
Let’s face it, our diverse workplaces – because they are diverse – can be mine fields of potential misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and even conflict. Believe me, I’ve stepped on more than one of those mines myself! That’s not to mention, by the way, the fact that the rules of political correctness seem to have taken over the world. Things sure can get tense.
No one would deny that diversity and inclusion is a journey. Some, however, would disagree on just what route that journey should take. Certainly, at the very least, it is from inequity to fairness, from inequality to equality, from injustice to justice. The journey does, I’d argue, take another route as well. Read more
Have you ever found yourself abruptly thrust into the middle of a conversation about diversity with no particular idea about how to proceed? Perhaps there has been some sort of misunderstanding, maybe an accusation of bias has been made, or perhaps something has been said that left a team member feeling disrespected in some way. Because these incidents are capable of bringing about productive dialogue and thereby serving as gateways to greater understanding and reduced bias, I call them “Gateway Events™”. Read more
Many of your colleagues, you may have noticed, are tired of hearing the phrase "workplace diversity." They have come to see respond to the topic as if it were nothing more than a buzzword designed to sell books, market consultants, and promote hours of expensive training. Unfortunately, this attitude is nothing new. Since its inception, the diversity movement has been in an uphill battle to gain credence as a key component of culture change in the 21st century. Read more
How often have you heard someone voice the view that a diverse workforce is good for business? In fact, that statement is only partially true. Sure diversity can be profitable, but only if it is free of the biases that riddle so many of our workplaces. Let’s take a closer look at the potential benefits of a diverse workforce and at the toll that bias, if not properly confronted, inevitably takes on our organizations. Read more
Bias=An inflexible conscious or unconscious, positive or negative belief about a particular category of people.
Gretchen listened as the new Cambodian supervisor explained his design idea. She then nodded respectfully, said she’d think about it, and returned to her desk having understood very little of what the man had said. “Saru’s accent was so heavy I just gave up. I’m sure, however, that his ideas were fine; I don’t want to discourage him so I’ll give him the go-ahead.” Read more
Do any of these situations seem familiar?
You are a manager who just gave an important presentation regarding goals for the next quarter. As you walk out of the meeting room, one of your direct reports says she is offended by your comment that the company’s new product would give the customer a real “bang for the buck.” What do you do? Read more
Everybody has biases – even the nice people who pride themselves on treating others with respect. Having a bias – defined here as “an inflexible belief about a particular category of people” – does not make us bad people, but it does mean that we need to work hard to defeat these attitudes that interfere with our ability to see our fellow team members accurately.
Anytime we want to change an attitude – which is exactly what a bias is – it is a lot easier to do so if we know that attitude exists. In the case of bias, we know it exists by what we say or by the inflexible thoughts that pop into our brains about different groups. All-too-often, however, attitudes – including biases – are unconscious and, therefore, fail to produce any obviously recognizable words or thoughts. Read more
Layoffs may be rampant and diversity budgets cut to the bone, but, fortunately, there are cost-effective tools we can employ to overcome the biases that block our ability to create truly inclusive workplaces.
The particular tool described here – “Bias-Spotter Partnerships” – is based on these four premises. Read more
Have you ever had an attitude that, no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t seem to change? Maybe you wanted to become more receptive to new kinds of experiences or overcome a tendency to get irritated too quickly. We all have challenges similar to these – for me, it’s a pesky tendency to be just a little bit too judgmental. Try as I might, I have had a heck of a time changing what really amounts to a mental habit of thought – a way of thinking that, in turn, dictates my behavior and reactions. Read more
When I use the phrase “kinship group,” your mind probably jumps to blood relations or, at least, clusters of people who are bound together by some historical or cultural tie. If you thought the latter, you are not quite there, but you are on the right track. A kinship group, as I am using it here, is @any population that shares a self- or externally ascribed characteristic that sets it apart from others.” This characteristic might be a disability, race, hobby, gender, culture, ethnicity, age, or any other of dozens of human dimensions. Read more
One of our ongoing responsibilities in the workplace is to treat colleagues and team members with respect. This means, among other things, to resist making comments or doing things that are hurtful or demeaning. On the surface, this seems pretty easy. Few of us would dream of telling a sexist joke or making a racist comment. The problem comes, however, in the gray areas – those jokes and comments that may or may not be inappropriate or hurtful. The purpose of this article is to provide some guidance as to how to draw the distinction between the acceptable and the offensive. Read more
Ethnic and racial diversity in the long-term care setting is affecting us all. Physicians, nurses, support staff, residents, and families reflect a nation in which more than 25% of the population is minority or foreign-born, almost 15% speak a language other than English in the home, and, by the year 2010, one in three will be from an ethnically diverse group. Read more
Theatrical coach Konstantin Stanislavsky may not have realized it when he developed an acting technique called the “Magic If,” but he was providing us with a strategy for identifying what otherwise disparate groups share – a key strategy for reducing bias and creating harmony in our diverse workplaces. Read more
Henry didn’t want to hurt Linda’s feelings so, when faced with the necessity of critiquing her inadequate report, he pulled his punches and let some of her most glaring errors slide. Susie thinks of herself as someone who genuinely values diversity. Recently she made a diversity decision of which she was particularly proud. When she learned that some of her Native American staff had a more casual view of time, she, in an effort to honor their culture, arranged for them to arrive at work 30 minutes later than the rest of the team. Read more
Have you ever noticed that the greatest dangers in life are those that you can’t see? A diagnosable disease may be nasty, but at least you can do more about it than a vague malaise that you hardly notice, but which is eating away at your health and well-being. Whether it be in my workplace or my body, I would rather have a problem I can see and fix than something subtle and elusive.
False information, rumor, misunderstanding – these problems are rampant when it comes to diversity issues. I am amazed how often a fact I am certain is true turns out to be completely wrong. Here is a quick quiz designed to illustrate how much false information is out there. As you take this quiz, try not to second guess it – answer as you normally would based on your current knowledge and expectation. Read more
According to a recent survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute, 52 percent of Americans prefer to work with people like themselves while only 34 percent would rather be with colleagues who are ethnically or culturally different. Clearly those in the 52 percent would be very uncomfortable in America's health care industry where cultural diversity has come to be the norm.
It was a century ago that immigrants began to pour off the ships at Ellis Island to be met by hoteliers anxious to provide them shabby housing in exchange for inexpensive labor in their boarding houses and hotels. Fortunately, the record of diversity in the hospitality industry has improved since then. There still, however, are challenges as hundreds of individual properties and large chains continue to hire large numbers of immigrants throughout the state. Read more
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