When we find ourselves dealing with workplace demands of stress, anxiety, and doubt, the best thing we can do is rise above the fray with the peace of mindfulness: being in the now, without bias, shame, or blame. The book, God is a Brown Girl Too, which is a conversational journey with our higher consciousness, says “there really is no space to be in other than the present moment. Don’t waste all of your time dwelling in the past. Release the past. Whatever took place years ago, months ago, a week ago, a day ago, even a minute ago—no longer exists. Now is the only thing that matters.”
This insight that now is all that matters not only makes us better beings, but also serves us in the workplace. We can face the pure potential of our challenges in a single breath. When we focus on the inhalation and exhalation of each breath, we are better able to release our worries about the past and the future—and breathe new possibilities by being aware of the present moment without judgment. This practice of paying attention to the breath is called mindfulness.
As the years go by, more and more scientific studies support that with mindfulness, we not only become less anxious and more resilient to stress, but we may also reduce implicit or unconscious bias. As women in the workplace who face unique challenges in being recognized, respected, and included, we cannot afford to ignore this restorative tool of regeneration, contemplation, and self-empowerment in our toolkit.
We Are All Biased.
As women, we are not above reproach when it comes to the negative influences of bias. Despite our own challenges, we are just as susceptible to the cultural influences of history, family, education, environments, media, and our own experiences that demean others and undermine our own power with toxins of shame, blame, and bias. Just as much as these toxins impact others, they also serve to marginalize our sense of self. We may believe that we are doing our best to advance our goals of “empowerment, accountability, humility, and courage” but beneath the surface we may actually be unsupportive of other women, especially those of color. That’s because we cannot control all of the stimuli and factors that shape who we are and provide the lens through which we see the world. We measure these biases through mechanisms like the Implicit Association Test (the “IAT”), developed in the mid-90s by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. Harvard University discovered that IAT data revealed that 88% of White Americans have implicit bias against Black people, and that 48% of Black people hold the same bias towards their own race. The toxins of bias run so deep that we cannot reduce them unless we are aware of them, and one important way to do so is through the practice of meditation, which is included under the broader category of “mindfulness.”
How Do We Know Mindfulness Works?
The science is still developing, but to date over 4,500 scientific studies support the practice of mindfulness to make us less anxious, depressed, stressed, and judgmental and more focused, resilient, innovative, and compassionate. In Altered Traits, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson even say that mindfulness helps slow aging. We need more and better scientific investigation to establish the impact of mindfulness on bias. Still, several studies support a reduction in implicit bias (e.g., Yoona Kang, Jeremy Gray and John Dovidio (2013)(the “Kang Study”); Adam Lueke and Bryan Gibson (2014 and 2016)(the “Leuke/Gibson Studies”); and Alexander Stell and the University of Sussex (2015)(the “Stell Study”)). Those who need absolute assurances will always insist on more proof and debate the impact of mindfulness, while those who have already experienced the benefits of mindfulness will provide the requisite leadership to establish the importance of providing mindfulness initiatives in the workplace. Organizations like General Electric, General Mills, Google, Intel, Stanford, Target, Yale, first responders, and even public schools have taken this leap of faith. The United Kingdom has defined the cutting edge by establishing itself as a “Mindful Nation.” Similarly, in A Mindful Nation, Congressman Tim Ryan advocates using mindfulness to reduce stress, improve performance, and recapture the American spirit.
Mindfulness Is Something We Practice.
Yoona Kang is one of the leading researchers in the area of mindfulness. Her study randomly assigned volunteers to one of three groups in order to measure the impact of mindfulness on their implicit bias against Black people and homeless people. One group practiced a loving-kindness meditation for six weeks; one group discussed loving-kindness meditations without really practicing them; and another group did nothing. At the end of the six weeks, the only group whose implicit bias against Black people and homeless people was reduced was the group who actually practiced the loving-kindness meditation. Just learning, thinking about, and discussing compassion and equality were not enough to change deep-rooted biases.
The Stell Study, where half of the participants performed a seven-minute loving-kindness meditation practice with Black people as their focal point, also showed a significant diminishment of bias against Black people.
Two other studies, the Lueke/Gibson Studies, showed that meditation in reducing bias does not need to be restricted to loving-kindness meditations. After even 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation, participants showed significantly less bias.
How Do We Begin Our Practice?
One practical way to be our best selves in any situation, including at work, is to minimize implicit bias through a dedicated mindfulness practice that makes us more aware of judgment, shame, blame, or fear. Regardless of what is going on around us, we can observe our thoughts without judgment, and we are better able to exercise compassion and respect differences. This does not make us complacent—it makes us focused, collaborative, and proactive. Mindfulness helps us shine our lights.
Mindfulness incorporates both formal (meditation, yoga, walking, body-scanning, etc.) and informal practices (eating, cleaning, journaling, cooking, etc.). The same way we apply makeup and/or style our hair to look good on the outside, we can apply a powerful, life-sustaining beauty treatment on the inside. We begin by spending at least a few minutes a day in meditation. Just meditating 15-30 minutes a day may help reverse the appearances of aging, improve our overall demeanor, as well as reduce our unconscious biases. It does not matter if we are introduced to mindfulness at the mosque, temple, church, dojo, revival, or on the job. The most important thing to do is practice it, and from that starting place, eventually discover what works best for us.
Each Breath Is a New Beginning.
There are strict practitioners of mindfulness with formulaic approaches and beliefs about what they consider a right or wrong way to be mindful, but there are infinite ways to slow down and pay attention to the present moment without judgment. The Psalmist says, “I meditate within my heart” (Psalm 77:6). In Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon, Neuroscientist Dr. Joe Dispenza writes, “when we are connected to the heart’s inner knowing, we can tap into its wisdom as a source of love and higher guidance.” In Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, Sharon Salzberg describes the heart as “a generous muscle: love never decreases by being shared.”
God Is a Brown Girl Too says, “[m]y love is exactly where you are. My love is here…. No matter how your life appears, my love is here, begging you to knock at the portal of infinite possibilities. My love is here, pulling you from the past and blessing you with the present.” When we cultivate an energy of love, we share that energy wherever we go, including in the workplace.
There are always opportunities to connect with this powerful energy within. Here and now, pause in this energy. Take a breath. Accept and send the love that breathes in, as and through you. Send thoughts of empowerment to yourself, all of your loved ones, and your colleagues, including the most difficult ones: see them safe and wish them success. Then, let go. Release all expectations, biases, shame, and blame, and relax in the liberation of not knowing. Thrive in the energy of the unexpected, untried, and untamed. Step outside of the box of conventionality. Breathe into the realm of fully expressing who you are. Allow the silence to reveal the pure potential of who you are: your incredible gifts and talents. Trust the amazing possibilities inherent in simply being aware. We are only a breath away from moving forward by being still, in the energy of mindfulness.