We must be willing to constantly question our own individual explicit or implicit biases

We must be willing to constantly question our own individual explicit or implicit biases

Wiley Davi, Women in Leadership programme facilitator at ECWO

I grew up in a socially conservative town in Massachusetts.  As a child of a mother born in the Azores and a father whose parents emigrated to the USA from Italy, I have always been aware of differences stemming from our identities. All too often I heard people refer to Portuguese people as greenhorns. Given my adoration for my mother and maternal grandmother, I struggled to make sense of people’s use of this derogatory term. This early experience with discrimination likely informed my commitment to educating people about concepts such as discrimination, power, and privilege.

By the time I was a teenager, I was keenly aware of another difference but one I would not reveal to others until I was in my early twenties – my sexual orientation. Originally, I identified as a lesbian because it was one of very few terms available to me in a pre-internet era. Now in my late forties, I am much more aware of the fluidity of all of these categories and feel less desperate to put a label to whom I am. Some days, I identify as queer, other days as gender queer, and still other days as transgender.

My work in the USA is not limited to one particular identity category. Instead, my workshops focus on issues that have a negative impact on individuals and organisations,  for example implicit bias, micro- and macro-aggressions, and prejudice. At Bentley University, I have been a co-facilitator of our diversity retreats for faculty and staff; the main goal of these retreats is to create an inclusive community on our university campus. I have published on the dynamics of difference in the writing composition classroom, on the value of exploring our hidden biases, and on power and privilege in the service-learning classroom. 

A great number of strides have been made internationally on any number of diversity fronts.  For example, as of April 2016, 15 countries allow same-sex marriage and a number of other countries recognise it. In terms of gender equity, there are more women leaders than there were 50 years ago. And in the USA, we have federal laws that protect job and housing discrimination against people based on their race, religion, sex, and national identity. However, despite these and other advances, we still have so much more work to do. The gender wage gap and the paltry number of women in the C-suite are just two indicators that more work needs to be done to bring about true equity. In terms of race and ethnicity, there is no more explicit indicator to me of our need to have more effective dialogue than the fact that in 2015 unarmed black men were killed by police at a rate five times greater than were unarmed white men.

I’m thrilled to be working for ECWO where my focus is specifically on gender equity. I was drawn to ECWO after having lunch with Prof. Dianne Bevelander. Her passion and commitment toward empowering women is infectious. My current work with ECWO is in their women and leadership programmes, which provides women with a space to hone skills necessary for their advancement in their organisations. From my short time with ECWO, I’m impressed by the commitment companies in the Netherlands have made towards advancing women in leadership. 

Finally, regardless of our particular identities or the role each of us plays in creating more equity in our organisations and communities, I think it’s essential for each and every one of us to resist the urge to think our own individual work is done. By that I mean we must be willing to question constantly our own individual explicit or implicit biases. Just because I am queer doesn’t mean I am exempt from exploring and working on biases I may have on issues pertaining to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a white person, I must be ever vigilant about the privilege that identity affords me, especially in the USA. This kind of attention to our own thinking can be exhausting, but we pay a significant price within our organisations when we fail to engage in that kind of self-reflection.