AUSTIN (KXAN) — Everyone has some sort of unconscious bias that can affect a workplace, and a national group of business leaders is taking a bus tour across the country to address the issue.
CEO Action, a growing coalition of 600-plus executives in the U.S., brought the “Check Your Blind Spots” bus tour to Austin for SXSW, attracting hundreds of people a day to walk through the interactive exhibits to test their own biases.
Wednesday, the tour moves to the University of Texas at Austin campus, where the group will ask students to evaluate their own attitudes, unconscious or otherwise.
“It’s just a practical imperative,” said Raji Srinivasan, a UT marketing professor and associate dean for diversity and inclusion for the McCombs School of Business, the school that helped bring the bus to campus.
If workplaces are going to be more inclusive and diverse in the future, Srinivasan said, a lot of it will depend on the values that new workers are going to bring with them.
She hopes the tour, which will be set up from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the plaza outside Gregory Gym, will encourage students to “take one small step forward to better understand someone who’s different from them, to understand someone else’s experience.”
“That’s the workforce of the future. It’s the chance for us to have an impact,” said Larry Westall, CEO Action spokesman and managing partner of the Austin office of financial services firm PwC, one of the companies leading the group started in June 2017.
The tour includes actual phone calls between landlords and tenants for participants to listen to, a virtual reality experience to put people in someone else’s shoes, a video mirror to watch and listen to stories of bias and a buzzer-based self-evaluation tool to try to identify bias in interactions between coworkers in an office environment.
“I know I have a lot to learn,” said Mitchell Griest, an Atlanta teacher in town for SXSW. “I grew up in an extremely white community, and so, intentional or not, I grew up pretty biased.”
His school is focusing specifically on issues of diversity and inclusion this semester, he said, but he still wanted to walk through the bus when he came across it parked off of Congress Avenue Tuesday.
Griest signed a pledge to act against bias at the end of the tour. More than 15,000 workers have signed the pledge around the country, as have 600 CEOs, a big spike from the 150 executives who started the group in the first place.
“You’re able to say, ‘Hey, I’m aware now, and now I can put action behind it,'” tour coordinator Mischa Lewis said. “That’s where we can drive change.”
Driving the bus across the country, the team is stopping at companies, campuses and nonprofits to promote the message. Last week, the tour stopped at Dell Technologies in Round Rock (CEO Michael Dell signed on to the pledge) before moving to downtown Austin for three days.
The challenge, tour manager Ryan Mosher said, will be for people to translate what they’re seeing on the bus to what’s happening at the office.
“In a regular, everyday situation, they’re not thinking about the bias and it happens,” Mosher said. “But here we’ve already kind of got their minds thinking about it, so they might pick up on it.”
Griest felt that, too. It was easy to pick up on bias inside the tour itself, he said, because he was primed to see it.
“I think you need to be exposed to it over and over again so that that becomes your natural reaction,” he said. “Hopefully you’re exposed to it enough times that you remember it in the moments when it actually matters.”
Business leaders at UT hope to start exposing students now, so they will remember it when it comes time to enter the workforce full-time.