It was warm, I was thirsty and tired. After a night of travel in the Netherlands, I finally reached the airport to take my flight to Ethiopia. There, I had a schedule to lead a training in strengthening personal leadership in education. From a distance, I saw an enormous row of people waiting for customer service to meticulously inspect all passports.   

Immediately the sight of a huge crowd affected my stomach. What to do? In an instinctive move, I joined the VIP row and counted on a positive dynamic of unconscious biases of the team of controllers. And YES, it worked! How happy I was. And my beloveds at home praised me for being so smart. It was an effective use of my will, my grey hair, my maturity, my white colour, and my rich appearance.   

A friend asked me: what will be the effect of using these privileges, while others clearly do not have them? Who will it harm?   

She shared the picture below with me:    

The picture above gave me the mirror. What I did was a microaggression towards those who did not have my opportunities.  

A lesson learned

I was unconscious when I took that action at the airport. But does it mean I can quit my responsibility? Does it mean other people in leadership can quit their responsibility? How about all the other microaggressions? Important to observe how they end into a systemic imbalance in opportunities for many people due to the many obstacles they endure, every single day. I learned a lesson.  

An effective leadership should break the systemic imbalance by giving a hand to others not having the same opportunities. Although I definitely see the need for collaboration, due to its complexity and systemic embedding.   

Some food for thought 

As a leader, have you ever stopped to think about how your actions and decisions can impact the lives of your team members? Have you ever considered the inequalities and obstacles that some team members may face on a daily basis, simply because of who they are or where they come from?   

Microaggressions, unconscious biases, and systemic imbalances can all contribute to a workplace culture that is not welcoming or supportive for all team members.   

But good leadership can make a difference. By recognizing our blind spots and actively working to break down the systemic imbalances that create inequality, we can create a workplace that is more inclusive and supportive for everyone. 

If you want to create a culture of inclusivity and strengthen your engagement and trust with colleagues and staff, we invite you to participate in our Leadership and People Management course.