To build diversity and inclusion, mindfulness must come first

We can’t achieve greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) without solving the underlying root problem. Educational seminars, book studies, grievance systems, and other means are not going to work without using mindfulness to address our unconscious biases.

Unconscious biases — our prejudices that hide under the surface of our conscious thoughts — block our progress in D&I. Harvard has established that all of us have these biases. These beliefs subtly influence the decisions we make on whom to hire and how we interact with others. In fact, our behavior is better predicted by our unconscious beliefs rather than what we say we believe.

For instance, hiring managers are 50% more likely to call someone with a “white” name on their resume than a “black” name, even when the resumes are otherwise identical. In interacting with people of races different from our own, we use much more closed body language and exhibit signs of high anxiety. We also favor those from our own group over others, such as judges ruling more leniently in cases in which the accused are the same race as they are.

These biases keep systemic inequities in place. These biases explain why huge gaps in economic and educational outcomes between groups persist despite decades of efforts to bridge them. There are no conspiracies, just blind spots in all of us that create enormous injustice.

Without addressing our biases, we’ll continue to see defensiveness and denial from people of privilege across the political spectrum. We’ll also see self-sabotage from marginalized people as they act on the internalized biases against themselves.

Mindfulness, a state of being in which we pay attention on purpose with curiosity, reduces these unconscious biases. We switch off our autopilot mode of living so we can choose how to act in the present moment rather than react out of habits formed from cultural conditioning.

Crucially, mindfulness also erodes the defensiveness and denial that bar some of us from having productive conversations about discrimination. By helping us to see our thoughts as merely thoughts and not absolute reality, mindfulness allows us to not become so emotionally involved in our beliefs. We can then discuss difficult issues without taking them so personally.



As Shakil Choudhury notes in Deep Diversity, we must cultivate self-awareness and self-regulation to do the challenging work of examining our own biases. Choudhury points out that mindfulness provides us with self-awareness and self-regulation.

The key message is that we must practice mindfulness to obtain these benefits. As Choudhury mentions, we have no shortage of knowledge on the issues. What we need is the will and follow-through to transform ourselves.

That begins with mindfulness practice. As a concept alone, mindfulness does no good; it must be practiced in order to accrue the benefits. As Anton Chekhov says, “Knowledge without practice is useless.”

The main way to practice is by meditating. You can find classes in your area, or you can even use apps like Headspace or Smiling Mind.

Let’s practice mindfulness today to bridge the gaps between groups, as well as to bridge the gap between our ideals and our reality. Without practicing mindfulness, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten: inefficiencies in the workplace and inequity and injustice everywhere.

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