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Compassionate Leadership Begins with Examining Your Biases

with Dima Ghawi

It’s human nature to seek out like-minded friends, partners, and employees. The human brain likes to feel understood and validated, and the ego loves to see itself reflected in the people around you. However, too much similarity can be the death of your business if left unchecked. Without diversity of thought, background, race, ability, or opinion, how will your company grow? How will your business be able to serve people different from you, if you don’t have any diverse voices on your team?  


Dima Ghawi has thrived in leadership roles for over twenty years, working with several Fortune 100 companies from all over the globe, including Intuit, Merrill Lynch, and IBM. Her award-winning memoir, Breaking Vases, focuses on her powerful story about how she blazed her own trail in education and business after leaving an abusive marriage. Today, she is a world-renowned, self-made businesswoman, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. She is a globally recognized thought leader and draws on two decades of corporate experience to coach leaders and executives in cultivating a vibrant, healthy, diverse workplace culture and re-imagining their potential.  


She shares so much of her story with listeners of the Making Bank podcast, and highlights the importance of leaders uncovering their implicit biases in order to create a welcoming, equitable, healthy business environment. She reminds listeners, “In order for us to be effective [leaders], we need to know what our implicit biases are.”  



Everyone Has Biases 


Your beliefs about the world are based on information that you’ve been subconsciously collecting and archiving throughout your entire life. Dima says the average person has over 180 various subconscious biases, and the first seven seconds of meeting a new person is enough for you to create a judgment based on that brief first impression. Biases vary in nature; from age, height, appearance, gender, race, nationality, background, work history, and thousands of other implicit factors. Any bias can cause your mind to create a snap assumption about someone.  


So why is it important to dig into our implicit beliefs and intentionally examine our biases? Dima believes “leadership starts from within.” She shares with Making Bank listeners, “If we don’t understand who we are, if we have our own fears and aspirations for perfection… we’re not going to be able to be effective leaders.” Sometimes biases affect the way we interact with others, the time we spend with some team members, the opportunities we offer to some employees over others, without even realizing the reasoning for such behaviours.  




It’s Not about Your Gut Feeling 


Something Dima really emphasizes is the difference between implicit biases and having a “gut feeling.” She explains, “It’s not about your gut feeling; it’s about a lot of shortcuts in our brain filled with biases.” It’s a matter of parsing out all the subconscious information your brain feeds you based on past experiences, relationships, and the society you live in. Dima describes the three C’s needed to shatter unconscious biases: curiosity, courage, and commitment.  


Curiosity is simply about having the intent and the desire to learn and unpack your biases. Approach your beliefs with neutrality and examine them each one by one. Why do you believe what you subconsciously believe, and how can you work on flipping those biases around? Get familiar with the lingo, such as the halo effect, or affinity bias. Once you know what to look for, you can work on rooting out those implicit beliefs. 


Courage is about having the grit and dedication to go forward with the work of shattering your biases, and make lasting changes in your workplace culture for the better. It takes courage, because like many well-worn habits and processes, there may be some pushback when you try to make a big change. Have the courage to push forward and stand in your conviction that a welcoming, equitable environment is ultimately best for everyone.  


Lastly, commitment is needed because the process of shattering your biases is a lifelong pursuit. You’ll need to frequently audit your beliefs as you go, and continue to educate yourself from experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion.  


Leading with Compassion and Heart 


Effective leaders go out of their way to celebrate differences and nurture a rich culture of diversity among their teams. Taking the time to dig into your subconscious biases, and truly doing the work to unpack and overwrite them, will create a healthy ripple effect in your hiring, your employee satisfaction, and business productivity overall.