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Breaking the Habit of Discrimination

Quote on Habit

We fear what we don’t understand. The basis for strife between segments of society, whether it is class, race, religion, or another “otherness” qualifier, is fear, and that fear is based in ignorance. The challenges our community faces are really no different than any other group that is somehow different than the mainstream. Although millions of Americans have a speech-language disorder and are qualified as neurodiverse, many more millions have little to no experience with anyone facing those challenges. The way they deal with someone with SLD is often developed through the habits they form in dealing with anyone different than they.

How Habits Work For and Against Us

Some habits can be extremely positive. You may have developed a habit of working out every day. You may have developed a healthy eating routine. Many habits aren’t so positive, like having a few glasses of wine every night or eating junk food during work breaks.

Psychologists call the process of our habits “habit loops.” Charles Duhigg wrote the phenomenal book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, where he describes the three stages of the habit loop.

The “Cue” is the first stage, and it’s where your brain is triggered to go to one of the habits you have formed for the challenges or environments you face.  The second stage is the “Routine” which is the action you take when the cue is triggered. The final cue is “Reward,” where you get the result that your brain wants from the habit you act out.

When you repeat these three stages, again and again, they become rote. The more we repeat the habits, the more we are programmed to react to the cues with the habit. And we don’t only develop habits around how we treat ourselves; we also form habits around how we treat others. The only way we can break our negative habits is by understanding what our triggers are, how we react, and what we see as the reward. You can break habits, but we must have heightened consciousness of what those habits are in order to do so.

Habits in Hiring and Work Culture

Organizations, like people, develop hiring habits. They look for individuals who possess what we call “culture fit,” which is often at the root of the lack of workplace diversity. Hiring managers hire people they are comfortable with because it is our habit to create environments that feel familiar. Our habits infiltrate these environments, and our habits almost always push us towards associating with people like us. That comes to life in very homogenized, non-diverse workplaces, even though research has shown again and again that diverse work cultures produce highly creative problem solving and much higher production rates. Yes, business still struggles to hire and promote diversely on gender, race, LGBTQ, and especially those with perceived disabilities.

How We Fix Workplace Bad Habits

Research by leading psychologists shows that habits can be broken by using “implementation intentions.” We need to create plans for new behaviors based on our understanding of the cues, routines, and rewards we use in certain situations. Workplace leaders must create their own plans for how they interpret cues and react in the hiring, promotion, and culture creating activities.

If you are a hiring manager and your employees are all from similar backgrounds with similar life experiences, you have built your team based on hiring habits. If you want to make your team stronger, more diverse and therefore more productive, you need to examine the habits you rely on throughout the hiring process. Where do you prospect for employees? How do you select from the resumes you encounter? What are your interview habits? What cues from your interviewees illicit a negative reaction from you? You must understand all of your behaviors in order to make a change.

For our specific community, we ask that you consider how you react when someone’s communication style is different than the people you normally hire. How do you react when someone stutters or struggles to find a word? What is your “routine” when someone speaks more slowly than members of your team or takes long pauses? Do you ever stop yourself and consider looking past the communication and more deeply into what your candidate’s skills actually are? Do you have any routines that cause you to shut down when someone communicates differently?

We can’t change our habits with the reading of one blog post, but we can begin to examine our habits and the results they lead to. Hiring a truly diverse workforce, including the neurodiverse, won’t happen overnight; it will take a deep examination of our cues, routines, and perceived rewards, and the creation of new habits that counter our old ‘rewards.’ But it is entirely doable if we want to make it happen, and the rewards are innumerable.

Photo credit: symphony of love Doe Zantamata Thoughts turn into actions. Actions turn into habits. Habits turn into your life. Think well to live well via photopin (license).

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Jill Willcox
Jill Willcox has worked in various human resources positions over the past 16 years including as HR Manager, Benefits Consultant at Aon Hewitt and as a Health Service Representative, working with people who had catastrophic work injuries. She is the mother of two children who are talented and contribute to society in a very meaningful way.
Jill Willcox

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