The Person You Mean to Be

The Person You Mean to Be

I recently read The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh, having heard about it on a great Happiness podcast episode on how to be a better ally. I thought it would be a useful book for me, as I think about how to play a more active role in tacking racism in my life and at work. I found it particularly helpful, given that it is an evidence-based approach on what we can do as individuals to fight bias against marginalised groups.

The book has chapters on how it’s necessary to activate a growth mindset when tackling bias, the importance of seeing your own privilege, being ‘wilfully aware’, engaging to be inclusive, steering the conversation, educating and confronting others, and showing meaningful support. Chugh argues, and I agree, that the business case for diversity should be part of our motivation for changing things, but not all of it.

Chugh uses the analogy of headwinds and tailwinds to explain how to overcome people’s reaction to thinking ‘well I never had it easy’ when asked to consider their privilege. That may be so, but if they were white, they were not battling through the headwinds of racism, as their black friend and colleagues were. She sets out the stages of white racial identity development – the first stage being characterised by a lack of awareness of race, a colour-blind approach and a strong belief in meritocracy. The second stage is then defining a non-racist White identity, where people accept their Whiteness and intentionally learn about their own contribution to racism. The third stage is to then move beyond intellectualization of anti-racism, to take action.

Chugh argues that when we care about someone else’s wellbeing and we want to do something, like reaching out to a black friend or colleague in the wake of a racist murder, it’s really important not to look for the person we care about to validate us – it’s all too easy to crave affirmation that we are a good person. She asks us to remember that it’s not about you, that it’s okay to be tongue-tied, that it’s not about convincing someone else that you are hurting – it’s about acknowledging that they might be hurting. She argues that silence is often heard as a lack of support and is rarely the way to go. She sets out that when we don’t get affirmation, we often feel threatened, which is stressful, and we are then liable to become less of the good people we mean to be. This is particularly the case when we are faced with a situation that challenges the identity we are claiming. When this happens, and it will, we need to get over it and move on without judgement.

There are lots of practical discussions in the book about tackling bias at work. She argues that when it comes to recruitment it’s not enough to expect diverse candidates to find your advert, you need to take your recruitment to where diverse groups are. In the workplace it’s really important that people feel able to speak up, ask for help, admit mistakes, propose ideas, take blame, confess uncertainty and disclose inability. The more that culture is enabled, the more people learn and the better they perform. She points out that a good place to start in building a more inclusive organisation is to think about running better meetings – noticing how inclusive the meetings are, in terms of who is invited, who is interrupted, who doesn’t speak and who isn’t asked to speak. It’s also crucial not to look to the people of colour in your organisation to have the answers, and instead make it clear that this is everyone’s problem to fix.

When I finished reading the book I took the Harvard-designed (and controversial) Implicit Association Test (IAT), which gives you an implicit bias score. Their website compares your results to others and in answer to the question ‘what can I do about an implicit preference that I do not want?’, it notes that ‘right now there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged ‘diversity trainings’ generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases’. They therefore encourage people to focus on strategies that remove the opportunity for implicit biases, such as blind recruitment processes.

This book is packed with ideas to make you think and to help you take action. I certainly found it a really useful read.