Blog Posts

Implicit Bias and Minding the Gap

I had an experience a couple of months ago that seems to be pertinent to what’s going on in the world these days regarding racial justice. It was the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Most of the country had begun working from home, we were tired and scared and overwhelmed, and we were staying inside. I happened to leave the house one day, in my car, to do my weekly curbside grocery pickup, and I noticed what I assumed was a delivery person in an unmarked vehicle. I pulled up alongside him, to see if he needed any help finding anyone – I live in a townhome community, and it can often be difficult for folks unaccustomed to the layout in here. The gentleman was obviously nervous as I rolled down my window. I asked if I could help him find anyone, and he said he was fine. I drove off. A few moments later it occurred to me why he was nervous. You see, he was a black man, and I was a white woman, and he likely thought I was going to cause a problem for him, maybe even call the police. I felt bad, as it was certainly not my mention to make him nervous. But it’s a reality my family and friends of color live with on a daily, if not a moment to moment basis.

Lately, like many of us, I’ve been trying to gain more understanding, and reassessing my motives of why I do what I do, why I live where I live, and why I spend time with whom I do. We all have our unconscious biases, things we don’t realize we’re doing, just because that’s how we’ve always done them. It occurs to me that as a Business Analyst, I spend my time doing that with organizations for a living. But I’ve not necessarily turned that same analysis to my personal life and decision making. Do I do these things because I have implicit biases that just make me more comfortable, or because I have consciously and thoughtfully made those decisions. Like with the delivery person, was I really checking to see if he needed help? Or was I checking on him because of his color and because he stood out in our neighborhood? Our answers to these questions may be unpleasant, depending on our motives.

Which leads me to my second point, that of minding the gap. I’ve never been to the UK, but it’s apparently a well-known phrase there, which reminds people to pay attention when getting on the “Tube” (in America we call it a Subway), and not to trip in the gap between the door to the Tube and the station platform. Why would I bring this up, and what does it have to do with implicit bias? I’m glad you asked. It seems there is a theory about “empathy gaps”. Empathy gaps are where there may be a gap between what we’ve learned and been taught, and how we react when we’re in a heightened state. For example, say I’m on a diet. I’m doing well, eating as I should, and exercising regularly. In my rational state, I think I have everything under control, and I know that if someone offers me a large chocolate brownie, I’ll turn it down. Except I hadn’t planned on getting a promotion. And I’m so excited and so are my friends, and they take me to celebrate. I’m no longer in a rational state, so when they offer me the large chocolate brownie, I take it and immediately inhale it. In the moment, when it came right down to it, I had an empathy gap. Empathy gaps can also occur when we’re being influenced by a high stress event. So say I’m house hunting, which I can attest is slightly stressful, and I’m being shown a beautiful house that’s a great deal. But the neighbors are playing loud hip-hop music. I say I don’t like the house after all, and I keep looking. Is it really because I don’t like the house? Or is it because I assume that if I hear hip-hop music playing, it’s a sign of there are more diverse people in the neighborhood than I am comfortable being around? These examples are innocuous, but dig a little deeper and say I’m a police officer whose duty is to protect and serve, and in the heat of a traffic stop. Did I pull the person over because I saw a violation? Or because I saw the driver was of a different color? And if the driver appears nervous, is it because they’re frightened? Or because they’ve been up to no good? My implicit biases might be the reason I pulled them over, and my empathy gap may then cause me to overreact to their nervousness.

So – what can we do? How can we be sure we’re making sound decisions, whether in our personal lives or in our work projects? I’ve asked this question of a number of friends recently, and the responses have been unanimous: Ask the questions. Educate ourselves. Listen to understand. Mind the gap. See each other as children of God. And repeat.


Greatness

Much has been said and written lately, at least in the world of sports, regarding greatness. What it means to be truly great, and who is the “Greatest” (of all time). Many people have waxed rhapsodic as they’ve stated their reasons for why their opinions of which athletes past, current and future are the “Greatest”, are correct. Examples have been given, usually along the lines of statistics, but also of said athletes and their take no prisoners attitudes while leading their teams to glory on the basketball court or on the playing field. Those attitudes included former players recounting how the athletes in question would scream profanities at and bully and belittle their teammates in practices and in games, telling them to do their jobs, and how it was all intended to make the teams better (code for “I’m the Star here, make sure you make me look good”). One athlete in fact even went so far as to slap a competitor on the opposing team so hard that his contact flew out. By all accounts the incident so affected the opposing player that he never achieved his own greatness on the court and retired a few years after, never to play again. All because the supposed “Super Star” couldn’t stand to be “disrespected” in the heat of competition. Let me be absolutely clear: Getting in people’s faces, abusing, bullying, and going off in profanity-laden tirades DO NOT make a person great. In fact, it makes them small and insignificant. And such behavior has no place in ANY workplace.

An ancient story is told of a Master and his followers, who were arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was greatest. Finally, they called upon the Master to cast the deciding vote. Patiently, and with perhaps a bit of exasperation, the Master explains that they have it all wrong. TRUE greatness is NOT found in who has a higher status than the other. TRUE greatness is found in servant leadership.

We all want to do well, and we all want to be recognized for our contributions in the workplace and in life. But often we can get so caught up in looking good, that we often make it difficult for our teammates to look good as well. It becomes more about saving face and saving our own position, at the expense of doing what’s right. In fact, we end up playing for the smallest of reasons, that of saving our own little piece of the mountain, instead of realizing that when we graciously share, there ends up being even more of the mountain to go around for everyone.

Servant leadership is just that. Doing what we can for the other person. That could mean mentoring someone who is struggling. Or actively listening and remaining engaged during a meeting. Or maybe saying thank you and meaning it. It could even mean apologizing when we’re wrong. Taken together, these behaviors may not be the ones that get you promoted or give you longevity in your organization. But, they could make you a better team player, and a happier person all around. They could even end up influencing for good and saving the career of the other person.

What are small and simple things you can do to achieve true greatness today?


Small and Simple Things

Those who know me well know that I have a favorite soda beverage. I drink it every day. I had made sure to stock up before we were all sheltering in place, but after weeks of working from home, and now not even going to the grocery store, I was running low and beginning to feel desperate. I’m sure you’ve all been there in one way or another recently. So when I ordered groceries last week for pickup this week, I was thrilled to know I’d have a few more bottles to keep me going. That is, until…I received notice that the store was completely out of said beverage. Yikes! This threw me into a panic.

Hurriedly, I went online and checked Amazon, who did have some, but it wouldn’t arrive until next weekend – over 10 days from now. I did order some, but I knew my dwindling supply would not last that long, so I also ordered from Walmart. However, I could only order two at a time. So, feeling panicked and desperate, I ordered 2 of every type of packaging offered, just in case they were out of any of them. That worked out to 2 2-liter bottles, 2 six-packs of bottles, 2 twelve-packs of cans, and 2 twenty-four packs of cans. Do the math, and let’s just say that should be plenty, even for me. Again, my hope was that I’d at least get some of them, enough to get me through until my Amazon delivery was scheduled to arrive.

Segue to this morning, when just as I was getting ready to leave for my pickup time, I received a notification that the shipment was delayed by at least two hours. Things were not looking good for me. I was already in a bit of a funk this morning, and this didn’t really improve my mood. But in effort to turn my mood around, I checked in on several friends, which made me feel better. A small thing, but helpful. I attended a virtual company get-together and joked with everyone about my beverage woes. Another small, but helpful thing. And around 90 minutes later, I got word the shipment had arrived, and to come down and get my groceries. The message warned me there were many things missing, but to come pick up anyway.

I hurried and drove down there, pulled in and popped the trunk of my car (because that’s the way it is these days), and a gentleman checked my information. Several minutes later, he returns, stunned. Through the window he tells me I had received literally everything I had ordered (uncommon these days, as I can attest). I was stunned as well, not to mention thrilled. For me, it was a minor miracle. I felt like in that moment, I had been blessed by the powers above as a result of my efforts to change my attitude. I thanked the gentleman, told him he and his colleagues were doing a really good work, and suddenly he stopped, visibly touched. He then turned around and thanked ME, for saying something kind to HIM.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that we never can underestimate the powerful impact of small things in our lives. Whether it’s checking in on friends, attending a virtual coffee talk, or remembering to say thank you to the folks putting their lives on the line for us in these challenging times, small and simple things can and will bring great things to pass.

I’m interested to know. What is something small and simple you’ve done recently and how have you seen abundance result from it?


After the Manner of Happiness

A story is told of a family who left their homeland to seek a new start, in a far off place. Upon arriving in this new land, and as a result of infighting, one group broke off from the other and roamed even further. When they finally settled down, they worked together to build up the place. And after a time, they realized that through their hard work, patience, and perseverance, they didn’t need to go any further. They were living “after the manner of happiness”.

I’ve been pondering this story today. For most of the world, the past couple of weeks have been a little on the crazy side. We’ve suddenly gone from commuting, to working from home. And from an economic boom to a soon-to-be economic bust. We’ve gone from getting a little bit at a time, to hoarding and panic. Suddenly fearful of the future, to living for today because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. As I’ve been going through some of these same things, I started wondering this morning, what can I do to live after the manner of happiness, while sheltering in place? Here are some things I’ve come up with.

  1. Continue to practice your faith culture, or spirituality, whatever that may be. For me, that means daily devotional time, and participating in my faith rituals as I’m able. This keeps me feeling close to God, and brings me peace in the midst of seeming insanity.
  2. Develop a regular routine. Work set hours, identify and check off tasks as you complete them. Set aside time for house chores – garbage still need emptying, floors still need vacuuming, and dishes still need doing. Exercise as you are able – if you’re allowed outside, go for a walk or play in the backyard. Eat healthy – you will feel better.
  3. Serve others. Check in regularly with friends and family and neighbors. My family has a continually going chain of text messages. And I do a daily check in via text and Facebook Messenger with my close friends. This helps me feel close to family and friends even though I’m far away, and that there are people who absolutely know what I’m dealing with. Last week I picked up something at the store that one of my neighbors had been unable to find. It was a small thing, but it gave me a good feeling to do that for her.
  4. Create. For myself that means working on my website and podcast. It means writing my thoughts down and sharing them with you. For others, it could mean taking up baking (if you have the ingredients on hand). Or if you’re my Dad, it means learning woodworking and metalwork. There’s a host of things you can try, and a billion YouTube videos to show you how.
  5. Positive entertainment. There’s a plethora of disaster movies out there, but personally I’ve had enough disaster this last couple of weeks. Look for something uplifting and/or lighthearted. In the absence of sports, play with your kids. Or, in my case, play with your kitty.
  6. Limit social media if you can. I know we all want to know what’s going on. And there’s a lot of positive things with social media. But it can also depress us and make us long for things we don’t have access to right now, or make us angry. So use it wisely. For example, a Business Coach I follow on LinkedIn does a live session every morning, and gives tips and encouragement for getting through the day. So I make sure I’m on LinkedIn at that time. I also try to post positive things – a positive quote, a picture of my kitty, or a meal I just made.
  7. Work. Do right by your company as they do right by you. A lot of companies and people in general are feeling the crunch right now. Some businesses and jobs have already gone south. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing everything you can to keep your job, or get your side hustle going. Maintain your integrity and belief in yourself by doing the best you can at whatever job you have.
  8. And finally, FEAR NOT. I know that’s a tall order sometimes. But we’ve made it through a few thousand years so far, and we’ll get through this one too. Life is meant to have ups and downs. We may be in quite the downer right now, but that means that at some point, things will also be looking up.

So, get after it. Do what you need to do to live after the manner of happiness. When this is all over, you’ll be glad you did.


Changing Your Stars

A few mornings ago, I was reading a story from a book, one that I’ve read many times before. In the story, the patriarch of a family is pronouncing his dying blessing upon his children and grandchildren. In passing, he speaks to a man who was not originally a member of the family, but joined them later on during their journey. He reminds him of where he came from, and how far he’s come. He then tells him he will see many blessings upon his own family because of the good choices he made. The man had started out in a position that would be considered disadvantaged. In the beginning of his life, he was a servant to a bad man. Later, through a series of events, his employer was killed, and the man was given a choice. He could return to his home and previous station, or, he could join this family and change his life forever. He chose the latter, and ended up being known for his goodness and being enormously blessed as a result.

Five years ago this week, after many years, I left a secure and stable job, and took a chance on a new one. There were many good reasons to leave, but it was still an extremely difficult choice. I could lose the comfort and security of my much-loved colleagues and my routine, or, I could go on an adventure and take a chance on up-leveling my career. I decided to take the plunge. Of course, this didn’t mean my career difficulties were over. I was challenged in ways I never expected, leading to much drama (e.g. trauma), soul-searching, and even more career change. But I’ve also been so blessed, and finally, I’ve found myself in a place I never imagined all those years ago. Just like the man in the story, I’ve changed my stars.

You might think I’d be ready to take a break from all the change, and that I should be content to relax a bit. However, it’s just the opposite. Instead, I’ve felt compelled to begin this podcast and website, this labor of love. My hope is that by sharing my story, and the stories of others who’ve gone through similar experiences, I can provide encouragement to anyone else who might be pondering their own journey, and convince them to change their stars.

If you have a story to share, or have a question about what you read here, please add a comment, or drop me a line at tracie@traceabilitypodcast.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


You Have to Have a Short Memory

The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last night. An outcome I was rooting for, as I’m a sucker for underdog stories…featuring the long suffering team (in this case 50 years of long suffering) that finally could. The most interesting part of the Chiefs’ story for me, is how many times in the last several weeks they’ve had to come from behind, sometimes by more than two touchdowns. Last night was no exception. Down by 10 points going in to the 4th quarter, they came back to win by a final score of 31-20. And there was much joy and rejoicing for Kansas City fans, and for folks who follow the NFL.

I was watching ESPN this morning, and saw Mike Greenberg interview the Chiefs’ starting Running Back, Damien Williams. Greenberg asked him, how was it the team came back? What mental change needed to take place for them to start playing as a team and pull out the victory. Williams’ response was “You have to have a short memory. …you can’t let everything bottle you up. …Live in that moment. …Take one play at a time.” Cliche though it may be (and who doesn’t love sports cliches), there was wisdom in what he said. The fact is, life and work can often be discouraging. Things don’t always go your way, and it can be easy to let it get to you. When major, or even minor, trials occur, you can either wallow in it, or you can try to practice resilience.

Case in point, today at work, I had taken notes and made a decision on a particular project, and then sent those notes to my boss. He saw through them right away and came back with a host of questions that I had never thought to ask. I felt embarrassed, and I felt unworthy of my Senior Analyst title. Granted, I’ve been there less than six months. But I do want to do my job right, and I do want to look good in front of my boss and colleagues. There was a time, and still might be, when I could have been crushed by something like this. But in that moment this afternoon, the wisdom of Damien Williams came back to me. “You have to have a short memory. Take one play at a time. Do great on that one play, then do it again. And again.”

So the next time you feel discouraged, remember the wise words of a Super Bowl champion. And keep after it.


The Power of Stories

Hello, and welcome! Here I’ll be sharing the stories of everyday professionals, and how they began and then sustained their careers over time. Were there times they had to pivot, or learn new skills, or find ways to overcome discouragement? If so, how did they do that, and what lessons have they learned along the way that can be applied to our own careers? Let’s face it, our work can be demanding, or boring, or engaging, or downright toxic. Yet, we’re faced with the reality that we could have many more years of this. So, how do we keep going? I hope you find here a place where you can find ideas and answers, and encouragement to continue along your own journeys.

Last week, the world lost two well-known and influential men. One made his influence in the world of sports, the other in the world of business. I admit, I have conflicting feelings on the passing of the first man, as tragic as it was. From my vantage point as a sports fan, he achieved the highest of highs, and did it while being a selfish teammate. He also made highly questionable choices in his personal life. Yet, over the last few years, he seemed to have found a sort of gravitas.

Contrast this with the second man. He was a business man, an academic, and a theologian. As well-known as he became, he knew his purpose, and he encouraged other to find their own purposes, and to remember what really matters in life. What really matters is our integrity and whether or not we helped others to become better and discover their missions in life. I was devastated at the news of his passing, and continue to be – just look at my YouTube play list for the last few days, and you’ll see.

I’ve spent much time the last few years trying to discover my purpose. What gifts do I have, and how can I use them in the service of others and have the most impact for good? I’ve suffered through toxic jobs and toxic bosses, and I’ve tried to overcome those situations by doing a number of things to add to my resume. But I’ve come to realize that’s not enough. I’ve felt the need to be doing more to ensure that other professionals either don’t have to go through similar situations, or if they are, encourage them to take steps to change their course. This need has led me to create this blog, and develop the podcast. It’s both exciting and a little scary. It means I’m putting myself out there, and who knows if anyone else will be interested in what I have to say, and the stories I tell. But here goes nothing.

One final note in relation to purpose, a faith leader in my Church gave a speech last week that finally seemed to pull this all together for me. I’ve developed a number of different purposes based on the contents of the speech as reported in thechurchnews.com. I’m sharing them as a way to remind myself of my intentions, and to give any readers or listeners an idea of what to expect. Should you choose to stay with me on this story-telling journey, you can expect more of these thoughts, so I want you to be aware of that going in. I hope you’ll stay along for the ride.

Purpose Statement/Vision Board

  • To lend my expertise, experience and faith to help build up and rescue the finest parts of individuals and societies.
  • To consecrate my efforts so there will be no poor among those of my professional associations.
  • With whatever unique professional and spiritual skills I have, to bring solutions and resources to [difficult] circumstances.
  • To utilize my field of Business Analysis for good, to stand up and be counted among the few dedicated to bettering the world.
  • To unify the hearts and minds of other Business Analysts for peaceful progress — people of all faiths, people who are willing to dwell in obedience to law, and eradicate all kinds of professional poverty
  • To share my expertise freely so we can be of one mind, to work side by side with others very different from me, so we can be of one heart, to keep the laws of heaven and earth so we can dwell in righteousness, to build up our characters so there will be no poor in spirit among us.
  • To do small things in my daily life to help contribute to the work of the Lord in bringing to pass the eternal life of all mankind.
  • To use my abilities to contribute, in some way, to revolutionizing the world and rescuing “the finest parts of individuals.