Design Out Bias. Design in Justice

Aug 05, 2019
Chris Flanagan


Despite good intentions, unconscious bias permeates how we communicate – from the words we choose to the images we feature. From the patriarchal tone that implies “confidence” to racial constructions in the imagination that limit everyday encounters with people different from us to the masculine metaphors and analogies that are meant to help understanding. In how we give speeches, host events, use Instagram, lead meetings, respond to questions, issue RFPs and all the us-to them traditional forms of communicating like our sites, research reports, and emails to partners and grantees. Inequality has been designed into how we communicate. And now is the time to consciously design it out.

We are not a DEI firm but we practice DEI principles. We believe diversity of people, thought and action is part of our unique social fabric and key to human flourishing. It is also a daily and personal commitment, and expectation, especially when we find ourselves in (or purposefully seek!) uncomfortable or dissenting situations.

Shifting from principle to action, however, is no small endeavor. We’ve learned the hard way that one of the top systemic issues creating barriers to change and a key reason for ineffectiveness are “the resistors” – those individuals with biases, entrenched thinking and, fears of change. And if decision-makers do not have an empathic understanding of the need for change and intellectual curiosity of the potential benefits of change, debates can be divisive, feel futile and exhaust advocates and beneficiaries of social justice.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve become big fans of John A. Powell who directs the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. And the video shown below has become an integral component to all of our participatory workshops. The interview focuses on Powell’s recent experience reaching across the aisle with Arthur Brooks, the head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to co-author an article featured in CityLab, in which they emphasize the limitations of addressing poverty in America.

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