Tackling Your Unconscious Bias with Sonia Aranza

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Show Notes

On this episode of the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast, we interview Global Inclusion and Diversity sonia aranza agvocates podcast episodeStrategist, Sonia Aranza, who helps us understand the concept of unconscious bias and how we can use it to invite diversity and inclusion into our farming operations and everyday routine. 

In this episode you'll learn how to recognize your own unconscious biases and shift your mindset to be open to new ideas and tactics that come from the next generation taking over your farm, or the industry connection that you haven't met yet. 

Links:

Sonia Aranza - LinkedIn

Sonia Aranza - website

H-2A Visa Program

AgBiz Masters

Transcript

Meaghan Malinowski:

Welcome to the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast. I'm your host, Meaghan Malinowski, Content and Digital Marketing Strategist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. They say it takes seven seconds to decide how we feel about someone, but how much of that decision comes from logic and reason, maybe not as much as we thought. Today's guest is going to help you think outside the box, by looking inside of yourself. Sonia Aranza is a Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Strategist. With 25 years of experience, she has worked with huge brand names like Boeing, CIA, Coca-Cola, McDonalds and NASA, just to name a few. She's been featured in HR Magazine and was named one of the top 100 Filipina American women in the United States and in the world. Sonya has spoken for our staff at MAFC on the topic of inclusion and diversity, and I'm honored to have her on the podcast because at the core of her message really helps us reflect on ourselves, our experiences and our thoughts, and how to use them to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives that will help us continue to grow ourselves in every aspect of our life.

Thank you for being here today, Sonia.

Sonia Aranza:

I'm honored to be with you there Meaghan, and your listeners.

Meaghan Malinowski:

So I want to just jump right in and get started. Something that you speak a lot about is the unconscious bias.

And I want to kind of unpack that phrase there and ask you to explain what is unconscious bias and what does that look like?

Sonia Aranza:

There is a neurology to bias. Our brain has two parts. The first part is called the amygdala and the amygdala is where the unconscious resigns as opposed to the prefrontal cortex where the conscious resides and the body of research tells us that the majority of our biases are unconscious. The majority of our biases are unbeknownst to even to ourselves. So we walk around making decisions littered with unconscious bias.

So what is unconscious bias? It's part of being human. If you are human, and if you have a brain, you have this piece in your brain called the amygdala and the majority of biases reside there. So, it's portable. It is part of the human condition and without deeper awareness as to what your unconscious biases might be. And just the lack of knowledge about this human condition, could many times impact your decisions to produce outcomes that you don't prefer.

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's a lot, that's a lot to unpack. So since it is something that is coming from the unconscious, what might that look like in our day to day activities?

Can you give me an example of a decision that you make that might come from this unconscious bias?

Sonia Aranza:

Absolutely. So we have a lifetime collection of biases that are unbeknownst even to ourselves that begins from the earliest days of our youth, actually from the time of birth to the time of childhood, all the way up to adulthood. So an example of that would be, your family of origin in your home, who stayed home and cleaned and cook, who went to work. Those early messages are inculcated in your head. And then as you move forward in life schools, the neighborhood, even places of worship, continue to perpetuate those biases. So for example, maybe you're told, that the woman is supposed to be the caretaker, the man is supposed to be the one that goes to work and then, it just goes on and on. And there's actually a body of research that tells us that these things that are inculcated in our head are never erased.

So now how does that show up in our decision making or in our work? Well unconsciously, because we are unaware of these biases. We might say, for example, in our workplace saying, you're trying to manage a farm and the next generation farmer, that really shows interest and enthusiasm might be for example, a millennial female who cares about environment and has, innovative ideas about how to farm, but somewhere in your head, somewhere in there in your unconscious, it could be that in terms of gender, you associate the male as the one who supposed to work, you associate the male as the one who's supposed to take charge of this type of enterprise. So you make a decision often littered with these biases.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I see, so that kind of shines through in the way that you may handle a certain situation or, or move forward with planning. Is that right?

Sonia Aranza:

Let’s just say, a very important point here is all of our decision making is littered with bias. And I want to emphasize that all of it, all of our decision making is littered with biases. The difference is that some have consequences that we prefer and others have consequences that we don't prefer. And sometimes, literally it leads us to consequences that we regret.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I can see that similar to the decisions that you would make in your everyday, kind of work routine. Some are smaller decisions, some are bigger decisions, but each one has a consequence. So that's something that we all have to consider as we go forward with them. And I enjoy your example about transition planning and thinking about that next generation, because according to the 2017 census, the average age of our farmer here in the US is 57 and a half years old. And so many of our customers and their peers are starting to feel the pressure of wanting to retire and hoping that the farm is going to stay within the family and trying to organize all of those pieces. But one of those parts of working with the next generation and navigating some of those generational differences, I think they can be pretty difficult. And that was something I wanted to ask you about also, as far as trying to mitigate these biases with generations that are working together.

What do you think is the best way to navigate those generational differences?

Sonia Aranza:

First of all, before you even try to address that you have to really advance your knowledge about what does diversity, what does inclusion and what does unconscious bias have anything to do with your success? When we talk about diversity, for example, a lot of folks that say, whether you're in farming or, some type of business that is passed down from one family to the other, sometimes we don't really understand the depth and breadth of what diversity is and what does it have to with our success. So diversity is far beyond what people think. Most people think of race or gender, or even generations as we're talking about. It's really a whole lot more than that. Those things are important. What we really want is we want a diversity of thoughts, ideas approach is, and we want increased solutions.  We want greater engagement. We want to avail of all of these different ways of evolving our farm, evolving our business.

 So how do you do that? Well, think of diversity as like a treasure trove that's locked and what unlocks that treasure trove is inclusion. So diversity is just all the ways we're different. It's all the little treasures in the trove; inclusion is the key. It unlocks all of that. Now what gets in the way of inclusion, what gets in the way of inclusion, is unconscious bias. So to your question, you really have to understand it in that school or context first, right? So, say you're a farmer in Maryland, right? And times are changing and so must we, right. If everyone in your organization or in your family thinks the same way, talks the same way, acts the same way, it is not an asset, it's a crippling liability. So how do you prepare for your farm for you and your enterprise to thrive? Well, you need like a diversity of different ways of doing things. Well, how do you really get the best out of these diverse spots and ideas? Well, you have to be inclusive of them, for example, inclusive of different generational thoughts, but also inclusive of different backgrounds and all these things, then knowing all of that, and you understand that what gets in the way is unconscious bias. Then you can confront your bias and the different ways that you can do that.  

Meaghan Malinowski:

What I was listening to you say, it almost sounded like you want us to think about pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone a little bit, and think about a different ways that we can be more inclusive of those diverse thoughts and diverse perspectives.

Does that sound right?

Sonia Aranza:

Actually, it's a little bit more introspective than that. It's really about self-inquiry. It's really about asking ourselves, given where I was born, given where I was raised different, what I know now, what don't, I know. I know what are some of the things that I need to advance my understanding about? So it's a very internal process. Yes. Quote unquote, you can push yourself, but you have to know why. Right, so for example, invite diversity of thought or, seeking people who make you see things differently.

Are you doing that? You're doing that because you want to advance your thinking. You want to be more inclusive. You want to address those things that you don't know.

Meaghan Malinowski:

So before we can adequately address those, we have to become curious about the things that we don't know and maybe how we can grow from having that knowledge.

Sonia Aranza:

I love that. Yes, yes. Yes. I always tell people, curiosity is a fantastic way to advance your understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. Curiosity is a fantastic point of entry in expanding how you think. So I'll give you an example of that.

 Let's say you're a farmer and you are having a conversation with a generation Z, a generation Z, someone who's born a 1997, so they're like around 22 years old. Or if you're having conversation with millennials who are a little older. The human tendency, your brain is going to want to go on defense. Your brain is going to want to just not really listen, but to confirm what you already want and what you already know. So the way you do that is, first of all, you pause and then you basically tell yourself, Hmm, let's just be curious about this person's perspective. I don't have to adopt it, but let me just be curious. And in that curiosity, you begin to expand your thinking.

Meaghan Malinowski:

It sounds like a big part of, of going through this process with yourself is really also about becoming a good listener.

Sonia Aranza:

Yes, absolutely. Being a good listener and be a generous listener.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I like that word. I like generous.

Sonia Aranza:

Yes. Because, we're all told to listen, but we don't listen generously. So what does listening generously mean? Say for example, you're at a fundraiser or something and somebody is selling candy. So you dig into your pocket and you take out a buck or whatever it costs. Generously would be opening your wallet and taking out a 20. Okay. It's above and beyond. What's familiar and comfortable to you. So this same thing would listening generously. Right? So I don't know much about, say for example, certain types of technology that has to do with the next generation of farmers. I go know much about people of different backgrounds who love farming, but they speak English as a second language. So listening generously is just really listening above and beyond what I normally do above and beyond what’s comfortable to me.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Now that we've kind of explored what it means to really be curious about what we don't know and what kinds of perspectives could really give us a different viewpoint on any of these topics that we're looking at as far as transition planning. I'd also like to think about and talk to you a little bit more about working with employees that may speak a different language. So language is kind of a big barrier for some of our customers. Many of them use the H-2A Visa program and we have guest’s workers that come from other countries to help with harvest and things like that. And I think it's something that as you go through it over time,  you pick up on some of the language a little bit, but I know that that can be a huge barrier to communicating with the people that you want to hire to help work on your farm.

 So what, what kinds of things would you suggest for some of our customers that have to deal with that kind of barrier? How can they better understand these employees and communicate with them?

Sonia Aranza:

So first and foremost, check in with your own unconscious biases regarding people who don't speak English. So when we talk about language, when we talk about accent, these are some of the dimensions of difference. Meaning, I talk about how diversity, all these things that make us unique and complex. Well, the language is one of them. And so the reason why I say check in first with your unconscious biases is because the research tells us, we do have biases again, languages. So for example, there's a body of research that tells us that there are certain accents and we prefer, so they had this research where people who spoke with a British accent were perceived to be brighter. And in that particular instance, the person who spoke with a British accent did not know the answer, but just sounded like he did.

And then there are all these other types of accents and languages. And if you can just think about for yourself, what are some of the accents that you like? Don't like, what are some of the narratives you create about people who don't speak English the way you do, because it's really where you start, okay. Because if you don't get to the root first and foremost of your biases, it's really going to impact how you communicate. It will impact the attitude that you bring, it will impact the way you interact with the person. So just check in with yourself first. Second, I think empathy is really critical. So for example, have you ever had to adopt a second language as though your life depended on it? Just try to imagine that put yourself in the other person's shoes, imagine if you were taken away from where you are and you had to go make a living and fend for your family and you were living in a modern world that did not speak English, you had to like adopt this new language, whatever the new language might be.

Just try to put yourself in that situation and just imagine how you would want others to treat you, right. If you were there eager, willing to do a job, and you're trying to communicate as best as you can in a language that you don't know. So that's important, right? And then third, let me just put it this way. There's more than one way of communication. If you just think of times when you've had to travel to another part of the world where you did not know how to speak that language. And let's say, for example, got a little lost and you're trying to find your way back to your hotel. Or even if let's say, for example, you're doing your tourist activity and all of a sudden you're not with your group. So you have to find a way at that point to engage, even though you don't know the language so that you can get back to your hotel or get back to your group. Well, I share that because there's more than one way of communicating. And so a person that you're trying to interact with, they don't necessarily speak your language. But if you have taken care of points one and two, which is number one, take care of check in with your bias, number two, heighten your empathy. By the time we get to communicate, it does become easier and they can see your integrity, your heart. And just like in the example, I'm giving you, they'll be able to communicate with you above and beyond language, above and beyond words.

 Now, I've also worked with companies where things that are used a lot in their line of work, like let's say, for example, in your farm, if there are certain tools or certain jobs, certain things that you think you'll be using on a regular basis, you could even kind of put that on a chart. You can even try to get sort of like a working knowledge of words so that it works both ways.

Meaghan Malinowski:

And I think that shows empathy too, when you make the effort to learn some of that language as well, some of that working vocabulary, it's like extending your hand for a handshake. You're trying to put in some of that work to really be able to bridge that gap. And I do think a lot of our members do that. A lot of our farmers are already thinking about that and trying to get to that point. But I do think you're absolutely right about being empathetic. I don't think I ever thought about it that way before, but thinking about what that must feel like to come from your home, where you are comfortable and having to start working somewhere new to support your family, it could be kind of scary for somebody. So I love these steps because they're all things that we can do very easily. And it might take some time, but I don't think it takes much more than that. And just being open to really connecting with somebody and making that effort. So thank you for, for those steps. That's very helpful.

So one other point that I wanted to kind of touch on too, because many of our customers and farmers, they may work alone. They may work with that select group of people, like we talked about. And many times it's family members or, a partner. But it can be hard to visualize the difference that diversity and inclusion can take when you're working kind of as an individual. And I guess I wanted to kind of pick your brain on what the importance is of making sure that you look for diversity in the perspectives and maybe some of the people that we contact for other services.

Sometimes our farmers they'll sign up for crop insurance. So they have a crop insurance agent, or maybe they have an accountant that they've worked with for a long time. And there's nothing wrong with that, but we want to make sure that we're thinking about what diversity and inclusion looks like for people that kind of have that small group network that they've always had.

Sonia Aranza:

So as an individual, just think of the power of diversity and inclusion. So as an individual, diversity of thought, diversity of perspective, diversity of solutions, diversity of technology. Diversity is very powerful. Even if you're by yourself, diversity means going above and beyond what you already think. So at some point we feel like we have progress, like whatever we learned in elementary school, we added on top of that high school. And then as we live our life, we acquire information here and there, just think of it as your own evolution, as a human being, like you're working solo as a farmer. Wouldn't you want to explore above and beyond what you already know.

Einstein, I think who says that, uh, if you keep on doing what you're doing and expecting different results, that's insanity. So just on a very personal level, you want to be able to value diversity, right? Read books that you normally don't read; talk people, you normally don't talk to; watch documentaries you normally don't watch; expand your thinking as a farmer; and explore the unimaginable, because things are always changing.

There's a term I want to talk about very briefly. It's actually a military term and it's called VUCA-

VUCA, this term stands for: V is for volatility; U is for is uncertainty; C is for complexity; A is for ambiguity. So military term VUCA, it describes the landscape upon which military men and women have to go and engage. So what's fascinating about that term is that business analysts and all sorts of academicians are now using that term to describe the current environment that we all have to show up it, including farmers, right? Things are volatile. Things are uncertain, things are complex. Things are ambiguous. Wouldn’t diversity of thoughts and ideas, approaches innovation. Wouldn't that be of use to you in this type of environment? Yes!

Meaghan Malinowski:

That's a new term for me. I had never, I'd never heard of that one, but I've been trying to think of ways that our members and farmers can apply this. And I, I'm glad that you touched on reading new things and looking for information and new places, maybe and organizations.  I think also because in agriculture, there are huge amount of different organizations that might work with certain commodities, or maybe marketing organizations that help put together campaigns that to help some of these producers advertise for their products and things like that. So I think there are plenty of opportunities with wanting to do this, even if you are just working by yourself or with these smaller groups. And as you talk about VUCA and what some of those pieces kind of add into, I almost feel like this, making sure that we're taking care of our unconscious bias and recognizing it, really helps us grow ourselves, which I think in turn will end up growing these farms and growing these operations to a point where they're very resilient for the long run.

Sonia Aranza:

I always tell people this don't make it more complicated than it is. It's really pretty simple diversity - all the ways in which we're different, all the ways where, in which we're similar. Diversity - the unique characteristics and complexities of ourselves, right? We need that in terms of greater innovation, increased solution, greater financial success. Really. We need that, but to avail that we need to be inclusive, right? So we can just have diversity. You have to be inclusive of diversity. And then what gets in the way unconscious bias, this human condition we have, because we have this brain. So you have to confront the bias because it's very portable. Wherever you go, you take your brain with you. So it's always there. So how do you go above and beyond what you're used to, you advance your thinking, you seek those who make you see things differently. And even like for ourselves, because we're creatures of habit, we usually just keep doing the same thing or going to the same people or reading the same things, um, do something different.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Right? So then change your routine a little.

Sonia Aranza:

That's exactly right. Change your routine or read books you normally don't read. And if you don't like reading books, then watch documentaries, you normally don't watch. Or if you like, you're the type of person who likes to talk to people. Well, next time you go to a coffee shop, even virtually, or just down the street, strike a conversation with someone that you normally don't. The whole idea is to just keep advancing your knowledge in ways that disrupt your usual habits of thinking.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I think this point that you're making now is the reason why I was bringing up pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I think for me personally, I can get very comfortable, kind of keeping to myself most days. So I think that's why I was thinking of this in terms of a comfort zone or a comfort level, because I enjoy talking to other people, but I also get very, very comfortable in my routine and doing the same things each and every day. So I think that's a great suggestion of changing up the routine a little bit, even if it feels different and maybe a little uncomfortable because we are creatures of habit, like you said.

Sonia Aranza:

Yeah. And just connect it to the WHY. Why do you want to do this? You want to do this because you want to evolve. You want to advance your thinking. I want to get out of my comfort zone. Why, not just for the heck of getting out of my comfort zone. I want to do it because as a person who's still alive, I have the opportunity to learn more.  

Meaghan Malinowski:

Exactly! So I had one other point that I wanted to touch on too. And I think we, we probably already covered it, but I want to make sure that we have all the steps. So, one of the things that you talk a lot about is how we can mitigate that unconscious bias and making sure that we're taking the time to really examine it and come away from that.

So if you had to put some steps around it, what steps can we take to mitigate that unconscious bias in our day to day?

Sonia Aranza:

Pause is probably one of the most important, seemingly simple, but hard to do - so pause. So what we know about the brain about the amygdala, which is where the unconscious bias resides, what we know is that it takes only three seconds for that part of the brain to calm down. If it doesn't come down, it's going to just act on the bias. It's just going to go ahead and run with it. So probably one of the easiest things you can do, but as I said, hard to do, cause you have to practice it, is to pause. So 3 second.  I grew up in Hawaii, so I always counted to 3 Honolulu - 1 Honolulu; 2 Honolulu; 3 Honolulu, others they like “Mississippi.” But the point is that before you make a decision or before you say anything, because that bias is so alive, take a pause, take a pause.  And what happens when you pause is that even though the bias doesn't go away, you don't have to act on it. So the pause is so very powerful.

 And then another one that I would suggest is, self-observation. So often we just walk around where we don't even observe ourselves because we're so focused on other people and focus on our rebuttal. And so when you observe yourself, one of the things that you'll notice, if you do it over and over again, just kind of like, Hmm, what am I thinking? You'll notice that you easily create narratives about people and about situations. So for example, say I'm working on my phone with somebody who speak English as a second language. So if I don't pause number one, I'm going to act on my bias. But then if I don't observe myself, I don't notice the narrative that I'm creating about this person. And it gets in the way of me communicating with the person.

Then I would always advise to seek those who make you see things differently because the more you see things differently, the easier it will be for you to do what I told you the first time, which is to pause. Maybe I don't know everything or maybe I am pretty curious, how this person would do it.  So those are some of the steps.

I grew up and raised by two school teachers, God blessed them, they pass away, but my parents were lifelong learners and I believe in lifelong learning. So get to know things. You normally don't know, people, places, things books, documentaries events, just go beyond what you're familiar and comfortable with.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Absolutely. Always be continuing to learn. Love that.

We usually have a sign off question that we ask for people that work pretty deeply in agriculture, but I'm going to change it up a little bit for yours, because I think it's very important to understand where you're coming from on the diversity and inclusion aspect. And you're very clearly an advocate for everyone in the room having an equal voice and taking time to understand themselves before they approach a situation. So I won't ask my usual advocacy question,

but when you travel to companies and teach them about this subject, what is the one thing that you hope your audience walks away with?

Sonia Aranza:

I always say when it comes to diversity inclusion, the ability to engage effectively in a diverse environment is about your leadership. So diversity and inclusion is all about your ability. It's all about your leadership, your ability to engage effectively in a diverse environment. So it always goes back to you. How effective do you want to be? How effective do you want to be in a VUCA world? That's it that's always volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. If your leader interested in being effective, then you will value diversity and inclusion because that's part of leadership. And that's part of being able to not just survive, but thrive in a VUCA environment.

Meaghan Malinowski:

I love that. I think that’s a great spot for us to end with.  I'm feeling inspired. I think I need to go and do a little bit more seeking out diverse perspectives and making sure that I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and getting out of my routine and to learn something new. I think that's what I am gathering from all of this. And I appreciate you unpacking this for us because I think it’s a big topic and it's not one that we could really give the most to in 45 minutes. But I think it's a great start. And I think you did an excellent job explaining this to people who are starting to explore this idea. So thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

Sonia Aranza:

I would like to offer people some free articles that they would like to read to advance their knowledge.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Absolutely. That’s one of our questions as well is where can our audience find you? And what kinds of services are you offering out to help tackle this question?

Sonia Aranza:

I would love to share some free articles that are quick reads that will help you deepen your understanding of this. And when I say quick reads, I think each one is probably like a three minute, no more than five minute read. If you go on LinkedIn, and if you put in Sonia Aranza, and if you LinkedIn with me, you can read these articles for free. I have three articles there that I think you will not only learn a lot about, but I think you'll enjoy. One is on the whole idea of non-experiences. Our one life cannot possibly contain the lives of others. Another one is on exclusion, exclusion, literally about neuroscience research about the brain. And then another one is actually a feature on HR magazine about the role of leadership in diversity. Those are free articles and free resources for you. You can also go on my website, SoniaAranza.com.

Meaghan Malinowski:

Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing these. I'm excited to go. I'm going to go on there and read them now. They weren't topics that we covered today. So I need to catch up on those

Sonia Aranza:

Meaghan, thank you so much for a wonderful interview.  

Meaghan Malinowski:

Thanks for tuning into this week's episode. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe and share with a friend. You can get all of the podcast notes and subscribe to email alerts at MAFC.com/podcast.  And if you have a suggestion for a future topic or guest, we'd love to hear from you and you can email Podcast@mafc.com . Thanks again, and keep on advocating for what you believe in.

 

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