By Wendy Sarubbi | May 27, 2015 9:09 am

Med school colleagues can shatter their own biases by ignoring what they “think they know” about others and instead getting to know people for who they really are, a workplace coaching professional taught participants at a May 19 Diversity Lunch and Learn session.

In his presentation “Leveraging Leadership & Results-Driven Retention: Engaging the Hispanic/Latino and African American Workforce,” Miguel Valenciano asked participants to draw a pie chart showing how much they knew about African American and Latino cultures and how much they thought they knew. The “things I think I know” section can be the most dangerous because it is “packed with assumptions, stereotypes and biases,” he said. “When you come into a situation, and you think you know how all blacks or Latinos are, that can be dangerous. Recognize your little voice, and get to know people for who they are.”

The College of Medicine’s bimonthly Lunch and Learns are designed to help faculty, staff and students better communicate and engage in an ever changing world. Previous topics have included gender identity, generational differences and inclusive mentoring.

Valenciano is a diversity and inclusion strategist who works with corporations, governments and non-profit organizations as a teacher, mentor and coach. He said many of us have unintentionally internalized stereotypes we were taught from a young age, citing his own example. As a child in Costa Rica, Valenciano says he was told by his teacher not to play with certain children, because “they didn’t come from a good family.” On reflection as an adult, he realized that the teacher was stereotyping children from single-parent homes. Valenciano says it is a challenge for anyone to forget preconceived notions that they’ve held for years. “I have biases and prejudices, and I do this for a living,” he said. “You will never get rid of your biases, but you can mitigate them.”

His suggestion for mitigating biases: Get to know a new co-worker and have meaningful conversations about life. “Find each other in the hallway, say ‘I want to have coffee with you’” he said. “The more people educate me on how clueless I am, the smaller that section of the circle becomes.” He also suggested slowing down, and thinking before saying something that could be offensive. Some audience members gave the example of being called “articulate” as an African-American. “When you say that to someone, it’s like saying, ‘oh, you’re not like them. You’re not like those people,” he said, citing his own example of a woman he met on an airplane who was surprised that he had gone to college. “No, I am not one of those guys, I am Miguel” he said.

To close the presentation, Valenciano encouraged participants to see their co-workers, peers and patients as individuals. He warned that the journey to recognize and mitigate stereotypes takes a lifetime, but urged the audience to become more inclusive through personal growth. “I was born with a clean slate, but I’ve been packed with judgment. That doesn’t make me bad, it makes me human,” he said. “But we are all good people. Expose yourself to people unlike you. We all have a story to tell.”

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