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Challenge Your Assumptions

Diana Stegall, CSP, CFPS, ARM, SMS, CPCU, 2019-20 ASSP President
Aug 01, 2019

The Board of Directors recently affirmed the Society’s diversity policy and we also approved the following statement to guide the process for nominating board candidates that we expect will cascade across our organization over time:

ASSP believes in diversity and values the benefits diversity brings to our activities at all levels, including the board of directors.

Having leaders who reflect diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, and who have different life experiences and cultural backgrounds contributes to more balanced board deliberations and better decision-making. Creating an inclusive culture that embraces difference also best positions ASSP to address evolving member needs and advance the OSH profession.

To support this commitment, we require the consideration of diverse candidates in administering our board election process.

These are not just words. They are guides to thinking and acting differently within our ASSP community. But we also need to take action to apply these ideas within our workplaces. When our work environments are diverse and inclusive, we openly and clearly invite others to share their knowledge and experiences. Doing so helps us learn what we do not know based on our own experiences. This knowledge enables us to identify and address more workplace hazards and ultimately protect more employees.

When we can approach situations with this mind-set, whether at work, at home or in our ASSP activities, we can better see differences as an asset to embrace rather than as a problem to fix. And it is through these actions that we can help make our companies, our ASSP member communities and our profession stronger.

A key step in creating an inclusive environment is for all involved to recognize how cognitive biases, which are beliefs based on experiences, what we have been told and what we tell ourselves, can influence behavior. While these biases themselves are not necessarily problematic, when we act on them, consciously or unconsciously, problems can arise. Let’s take a look at two cognitive biases in particular that can influence our actions as they relate to diversity and inclusion: affinity bias and confirmation bias.

Affinity bias is being naturally drawn to those whom we perceive to be like us. This “sameness” creates a level of comfort that often is not present when we interact with people who are not like us. Confirmation bias is the tendency to listen to, read or be drawn to information that reinforces what we already believe. This bias is found in nearly every aspect of our lives because it is human nature to seek information that affirms our views.

Acknowledging these innate tendencies and understanding how they influence our actions is not always easy. But when we recognize these potential blind spots, we can better help our organizations implement systems and processes to address the barriers, structures, practices and attitudes that can cause people to feel marginalized. Safety 2019 speaker Nicole Malachowski, the first female member of the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, emphasized the need to constantly challenge how and what we think. This is especially true when we encounter others who cannot (or will not) look beyond their own biases to see our potential or acknowledge our contributions. To be more inclusive in all we do, we must challenge our own assumptions and we must recognize how our own self-talk can cause us to accept others’ opinions about situations, individuals, groups and even ourselves and what we can do.

As you read this month’s PSJ, which focuses on key issues discussed during last fall’s Women’s Workplace Safety Summit, think about how some of these issues play out in your workplace and other areas of your life. Then ask yourself some important questions: Can I approach these issues differently? How can I help underrepresented populations have a voice in decisions? Am I modeling and encouraging behavior that demonstrates respect for all?

Verna Myers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” You’re invited to this party. Shall we dance?


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