Roosmarijn: Hello, everyone. And a very warm welcome to our talk on inclusion at UWCSEA. It's a pleasure to be here to have you here. My name is Roosmarijn Emmering and I have been working on a project around diversity, equity and inclusion in the college.
Right. So the question is what does it mean to be inclusive in a community at UWCSEA? And in a way, we thought, well, our mission makes it quite obvious, right? We have to unite. And for uniting people, we need to have that sense of inclusion and reality was a little bit bumpier than that because a lot of people interpret our mission in a very different way. And that makes sense because we're all unique identities that show up in a very, very, very diverse community. And we have been celebrating the diversity, but we have come to the realisation that diversity in itself is not always necessarily a good thing. And the reason for that is if you have lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds, values, aspirations, biases in a room, you might end up with conflict and not necessarily the harmony that we are aiming for or even peace. So we've learned that without a very, very deliberate effort to include everyone's identity and viewpoint, it's really really difficult. And that inclusion paradox, a diversity, equity and inclusion paradox, in a way, is what we are talking about.
So all these fantastic, unique people that are in our community show up with their own very unique perspectives. And that is great in itself. But if you have not reflected on why you think what you think and how you could build bridges to other points of view, we can't really find solutions in order to make our community – or even the world if we think big and aspirational, and why not – more inclusive. So, yes, you too are part of the problem. And if you don't realise that you can't be part of the solution. So what I would like to do is reflect a little bit on our own identities, values, biases. And let's see where that brings us in the next step.
So in our community, with people coming from all different cultural backgrounds, and with culture, I mean broader than passport countries. It's different. We have been shaped and socialised through these different cultures to value different things. Our basic assumptions are different and our norms are different. And culture operates on the level of how we interact with each other. So it's immediately quite visible where the clashes occur. So by understanding how our cultural values have shaped our biases, we can reflect and we can learn to override these biases, which is entirely possible, but it is a really effortful, purposeful action. It is actually one of the most difficult things for our brain to do. It uses the most glucose in most galleries. So we really really need to work on breaking our biases. But that is one of the things that is necessary to bridge gaps to others and other points of view to deal with all the differences.
Now, why does our brain work that way? Our brain looks for patterns. So we have evolutionary been wired for bias and that makes sense. We had to make very quick snapshot decisions. Is this friend or foe? Is this freeze or flight or fight? And so our brain immediately starts looking for patterns. And this is why we see Jesus in a slice of toast or Cookie Monster in some stones that have been uncovered quite recently. Of course, these are random patterns but our brain immediately starts attributing meaning to these specific faces. By the way, that's one of the things that our brains love.
If you look at the why, then there are four reasons why our brain turns to bias. First of all, there's just too much information. So at any given moment, we're exposed to around 11 million bits of information and I don't care how brilliant all of you are. That's too much, right? We can't deal with that. So we can only process around 40 to 60 I think deliberately. So we use very blunt knives so we only actually notice when stuff is different, when it's bizarre or when it's repetitive and we love our own confirmation bias. So if something confirms what we already know, then there we go. We don't actually seek out different perspectives
Second reason is there's just not enough meaning. We just don't make sense of all of it. So we go to generalities, patterns, we give stuff the benefit of the doubt, and we are lazy thinkers, so we go for the easier stuff.
Then the third big reason is there's just not enough time. So we just assume stuff. We go to the nearest information that we just learned and seems about right. We want to keep our options open and again, we go for easy solutions and we don't have enough memory space, so we outsource to memory. I mean, who on this particular call, can still remember all the phone numbers that we had to memorise, you know, when we were growing up because we didn't have smartphones to do that for us.
So we just tried to save energy by editing heavily, and that means that we only remember the things that fit in that pattern that is useful for us. And all of this is because in a way, we're quite lazy thinkers.
Quite groundbreaking work on this has been done by Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize on the work of the Mind Decision-Making Rationality or should I say The Lack of Rationality in Our Brain and Our Biases. Kahneman talks about two systems in our brain. He talks about one system that is conscious, that is deliberate, that is slow, it's effortful, logical, and he talks about the other system that is instinctive, stereotypical, biassed, frequent, fast thinking. Hence, the title of his work Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. And can I just ask all of you on the call at this point to pop in the chats how much percent of that conscious, slow thinking do you think you use on any given day versus fast thinking? So give it to me in percentages. Do you think it's 50 50 or do you think it's 50% conscious, 50% unconscious? Do you feel that the percentages are different? Can you put that in a chat and let's have a look at what's coming in and let's see.
So I might give you 30 more seconds to contemplate it. Also, if you're not engaging in chat, just think about it. How much time in that brain would you be using in that particular mode?
All right. Okay, I'll, I'll give you the answer. Kahneman's research actually confirmed that... drum roll.... We are using 2% of our conscious brain versus 98% of our fast thinking systems. Now, let that number sink in. What is the consequence? Right. This is always a very hard number to swallow. Specifically, if you consider yourself a logical thinker, right? You think I'm quite a good thinker. So reflecting on why that thinking also is quite fast and biassed and stereotypical is usually quite EYE-OPENING. And if this is true and let's give the man the benefit of the doubt, he won the Nobel Prize for it right. What does that mean for our interactions and what we've learned, what we socialise to do, and how we show up in our inclusive behaviours in a very, very diverse community.
Now, one of the big problems with Thinking Fast is that if it's stereotype, fast thinking leads to stereotyping, stereotyping leads to prejudice. Prejudice leads to exclusion. And as Einstein famously said, it's easier to break an atom than a prejudice.
Now, by now, you think, Yeah, okay, biases. Does it really matter? Why are we talking about this when it comes to inclusion? Or exclusion? Well, yes, it matters a lot. And I just gathered a couple of examples for you to engage with. There are many, many more resources that I will share with you later. There are some fantastic books around that. More lighthearted YouTube when YouTube started opening their platform for people to upload videos, they noticed they made a very clear instruction guide, and they had noticed that around 10% of the videos were uploaded upside down. And they could not figure out why people were so stupid because it was clearl the instructions. Right? So all the engineers were deliberating what has been going wrong here. It turned out all the people who have been working on that app were right-handed. So their bias was for right handed people, and they never even consider the people who are left handed flip their camera or their device a different way. So that's a very small example.
Some more severe examples for medical science are that maybe some of you I certainly grew up learning how do we recognise heart attack or heart attack is recognised by a sharp pain on the breast and your left arm is starting to hurt and shortness of breath, these sort of things. And which is true in a male body. But for women, women can have Full-Blown heart attacks and it can look like a cold. So women are dying because of undiagnosed heart attacks, because medical science has been studying these symptoms on male bodies, similar thing is about crash test dummies and safety seatbelts. These are all placed based on the average weight and height of the male body again. So people from Asia or women or, you know, anybody with another body type than an average Western man is more prone to accidents or deaths because of that.
School examples in the UK, there has been research done where it shows that preschoolers, black preschoolers on average are at a higher risk of being expelled in kindergarten, four times more likely than their white counterparts. And of course, our recent example of systemic bias towards black men mainly is the murder of George Floyd and all the other murders that we see to police violence of institutionalised bias.
So in order to answer that question, yes, it matters a lot for us to engage with when it comes to our own biases, inclusion, exclusion, and to bring it a little bit closer to home. When we think about how these biases are reinforced, think about Disney movies we grew up with. Think about gender roles. Think about the stereotyping of queer people, of Asian or of Arab people. Recently, I was watching The Little Mermaid with one of my children, and it suddenly struck me how horrible that message is. A woman who is literally forced to give up her voice to marry some random prince, that is you know, what have we been putting in our minds? And if you think about all of you on the call who have children, think about the gender stereotypes, think about the sort of compliments your boys get and your girls get. So think about I have boys, so they constantly get told, oh, you're so brave, you're so smart, and you're so courageous. My neighbour has girls and constantly they hear you're so pretty. You're so sweet. You're so kind. So we really have to question ourselves what sort of messages have we been learning and what are we engaging with and teaching our children? This was a visit to Toys R US recently, and this shop really makes it quite clear where we have to shop for the boys and girls, right?
So it is all around us. And we need to start recognising how our biases, our unconscious biases are being reinforced. So I have something for you to reflect on. And if you will take a screenshot and take it home, please do. Because I think it's such an important discussion to have with your loved one, with your friends, and basically have a discussion around what sort of discussions did we have around race, for example, in your family when we were growing up? But what did your parents say about other races? What sort of biases might have occurred from that?
One of my friends here in Singapore who is Indian, she saw that question and she said suddenly, Oh my gosh, my mum always said, don't go play outside because you will become so dark. So of course, the implicit message being dark is ugly, right? What were the messages around gender about role expectations? Who was sent to the kitchen to do the dishes? Who was left to mow the lawn? Was there a gender expectation in your house growing up? What were the messages around religion and in other religions? What sort of information, how were people treated that were homosexual or were heterosexual? Or non-binary? Was there talk about that and how did that information sound? So what is really helpful is to think back about the messages you have been growing up with and how these messages might prevent you still nowadays to engage with difference, with any sorts of difference. And is it warping your awareness of what is happening here now? So this is a worthy exploration.
And one of the things that we know is that if you think about the five people that you go to for the people you trust most, you hang out with, you go for advice. You seek you know, you have a cry, you have a laugh with and you think it through the lens of diversity.vHow different or or how similar are these people when it comes to level of education, socioeconomic status, race, gender, political preference, whatever you can imagine from different, how similar or how different are these people from you?
Now, by far, most people will say, well, actually, my in-crowd is pretty similar and this is called in the science, says the behavioural science is the similarity bias and similarity bias can be very, very quickly described as we like people who are like us. And similarity bias is everywhere. And this leads to, if we constantly hang out and are surrounded by people who are like us, then of course, our thinking becomes an echo chamber and we don't deliberately engage with different perspectives. And you could argue, so what? You know, I like hanging out with people that are like me. What's the problem? Well, that bias creates in groups and when you have an in-group, you automatically have an outgroup. So that outgroup and in-group leads to excluding people and exclusion actually hurts.
There have been experiments done with people who were put in an MRI scanner who were physically hurt in a certain area of the brain lights up in that MRI for people who experience physical pain, people with psychological pain from exclusion were also put in a scanner and a similar area did almost the same area lights up. So we know it is really, really painful for people to feel excluded. And if all of us on the call tap into, we can all relate to exclusion, right? Whether it was in high school, when you weren't part of the cool kids or now when it is somebody who doesn't invite you to their wedding or whatever work party that doesn't include you in a certain project. Exclusion is really, really painful. So we want to avoid that. We want to create a deliberate intention environment where we include all these identities and viewpoints, perspectives.
And that is a tough balancing act because we have to identity needs. On the one hand, we all want to be seen and loved for who we uniquely are and all that we are. And on the other hand, we desperately want to belong with the group. And these things are quite hard to balance. And if you look at organisational research, then what we see is that if people are not valued for their uniqueness and they don't belong, that's exclusion. That's the most horrible state that we definitely need to avoid. Right.
Then we have the state where people see, yes, you have a unique contribution. We see that in lots of teams. Right. We have individual contributors with fantastic talents, but there is no sense of belonging and they're not really part of a team which is called differentiation. Then we have a simulation and this is where we desperately want to fit in. So we go along to get along and we cover parts of our identity to make sure that we are part of the team. But we can't bring our full selves in because that uniqueness is not necessarily valued in the state that we of course, are aiming for is inclusion where yes, we can be completely ourselves. We don't have to cover our identities and we belong to the team. Now, the reality is this is a fluid sort of continuum, but this is what we are definitely aiming for.
And so when we talk about inclusion, it is about accepting the person as they completely are the visible but also the invisible layers of diversity. And for that reason, labelling people is not always very helpful because we are so much more than our gender or our race or our religions or our cultural backgrounds. We have these unique intersections of all these different visible and invisible layers that make us us. But not all differences show up in similar ways for people.
So if we look at how we can use and leverage that difference, then we can see the metaphor that said Dolly Chou, I think it is used in her book The Person You Mean To Be, which is Tailwind Headwind and symmetry. So she talks about how all of us experience tailwinds in our life. The little pushes that we get and we often don't recognise as such that help us make progress in life. This could be a family name. It could be a race or gender. It could be the fact that you grew up with electricity and running water. It could be having a secure support system. And there are so many things that can be tailwinds. Headwinds are all the things that work against us. So remember, if you hopefully now when COVID is a bit gone, we can all travel. I think if you fly West the journey takes longer because you face headwinds.
It is a bit similar with privileges. So if we look at privileges, we talk about headwinds and tailwinds. It's the opportunities and advantages sometimes unearned, sometimes earned but they only exist in a certain context. And it's not good or bad to have privilege. It just is, fascinating is that we're always much more aware of this privilege we don't have then the privilege we do because what we don't have, we recognise that the headwinds we recognise immediately right because we are so familiar with it and the tailwinds get is to stop that's that's the water we swim in. So that makes it hard for us to see and privilege impacts our ability to exercise our power.
So our question is to ourselves to you is how are you using your privileges to elevate people who might face more headwinds than you? And to elevate voices or that might be marginalised in order to become more exclusive so that awareness around headwinds and tailwinds is very very helpful. Now we get backlash. It is difficult.
People find it really hard to have these conversations and what we found is what gets in the way of having these conversations. People are scared of polarisation. So we see a risk of conflict within our departments or classrooms. We find it hard to navigate the discussions. Some people are all strangers. We just don't like to discuss topics that might threaten our worldview. Oh, this is all very human, it's not an attack at all it just is right. And sometimes people say, I'm just so scared to say the wrong thing, so I'd rather not say anything. And that leaves us with a tension that basically navigates sort of the same spectrum. So some people might say this place is not inclusive at all. This is all performative versus I'm not accepted at all. I'm on my way out. In a way, they're navigating the same concern, or you know, this is all going way too far or this is all going way too slow. So there are some tensions here that make it hard to open discussions.
And that is because it is about us. It threatens our identities so if we start talking about exclusion and inclusive behaviour, some of the things we might hear is, well I'm sorry, I recycle, I pay my taxes, I voted for the right guy. I give to charity. This all doesn't apply to me right, which is the self enhancement, bias and blindspot bias. We find it all very very hard to see that we might all want to feel good about ourselves, which is logical but that makes it a bit hard. Then there is the anticipated reproach where if diversity and inclusion efforts are done poorly, we might suggest areas and ask them, you know, who are you to judge me? And that that is just sort of a defence mechanism.
Then there is the threat response of Why are you singling me out? You know, now it's all about this demographic and what about the others? And we have a deep need for autonomy, which makes it hard to engage with some people who say, You're not going to tell me what I have to think and do.So we want to come up with it ourselves.
And the way that we navigate these discussions can show up as what is referred to in the same book that I was referring to just now, The Person You Need To Be as heat and light and heat is the activist approach we need to do. We need to be more inclusive and we need to be now we have to rip off the Band-Aid and it is forceful.
On the other side, there's the light approach. It's more logical and more used to them, more creating, learning, bring people along. And I think one of our learnings has been, is dead. We need both. We need people, we need Malcolm X, but we also need Martin Luther King. We need Greta Thunberg, but we also need Al Gore because both of these approaches can be tremendously effective, but also create tremendous backlash. So people who prefer the light approach might be blamed for being complacent and that's all not helping. The heat approach might get the backlash of aggression and these things. And again, and this comes to inclusion as well, we need to include these perspectives because we need to draw on both in order to make change happen.
So to conclude, what is it that we can do and what are we doing? We have all sorts of efforts to structure for success. So to make these efforts very intentional and we just don't have the time to go into all these solutions. But making sure there's a deliberate effort there. Data driven approaches to measurable results, analysing how messages could work out unintentionally at different levels in our communications, and adopting a system where we hold everybody to account. So there's distributed leadership to make sure that we hold each other and everyone to account in order to become more inclusive.
To end this talk this is what we are doing on an institutional level. But now it's about you. You're not off the hook here as well. I think it is a shared responsibility for all of us to work on deliberate inclusion. And I'm a big fan of the 1% rule. You don't have to change everything by tomorrow because we all know that's not going to happen. But, you know, you can't change one thing with 100% tomorrow, but you can change 100 things with 1% tomorrow. In all these little 1% are incremental and they will help change.
So the question I'm going to ask you to open the chats and to sign off with is what if you were 1% less biassed, 1% braver, 1% more inclusive? What would that look like? And what is your particular commitment? That was it for me for now. Thank you so very, very much for being here. I will now pop in the chat.