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World Café: Making the Implicit Explicit

Friday, October 4, 2019  
Posted by: Jessie Greenberg
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On September 12, women of St. Louis Forum gathered at Stinson, LLP for an evening of engaging dialogue. Thursday night’s world café discussion was the fourth meet-up in a year-long, 4-part series on unconscious bias in the workplace. 2018-2019 Issues Exploration Chairwoman Julia Mendelow welcomed us and passed the gavel to her successor, Carolyn Hentschell, 2019-2020’s Issues Exploration Lead.

The program took the form of a “World Cafe” discussion format, which is designed to give people an opportunity to address relevant questions on the topic in small groups and to rotate groups such that each person shares ideas with several other people.  This format enables the entire experience of discussion to be greater than the sum of the parts (  

Owner of Aspire Coaching and Consulting and Forum Member Peggy Guest skillfully facilitated the three-part, round robin discussion. She encouraged sharing in a safe space and led what she termed “a night of musical chairs.” In groups of 4-5 women, the evening was divided in three discussions. After 20-25 minutes, women were asked to rotate to a new table to continue the dialogue.

The 3 parts covered sharing insights and best practices with focus on what was discussed this year, hopes for 2020, and a look at personal goals to address bias in the upcoming year.

Round 1 addressed these questions: “As a result of the reflections on implicit bias that have been the focus of the Issues Exploration programs of the last year: What new insights have you had? What new best practices have you seen in your workplace or community?” 

One group (table 1) included Forum members Marilyn Wechter, Jan Hendrickson, Carolyn Hentschell, and Zundra Bryant. In defining implicit bias, Jan commented that it was the difference between “thinking fast and thinking slow.” She elaborated that, when thinking fast, it’s important to recognize what’s happening and have the wherewithal to reassess. Marilyn added that unconscious bias is syntonic and posed the question “how do you recognize that your experience is different from mine?” To address unconscious bias, one’s conscientiousness of thought, coupled with a recognition of another’s experience, is a start.

Round 2 focused on hopes for 2020. Zundra Bryant urged us to look at our [an organization’s] processes. To encourage and initiate change, an organization should look to changing its processes. While conversations are a good start, real change requires more than talk; it requires an assessment of hiring practices, as well as a look at management and internal processes that shape the workplace.

Round 3 concluded with personal goals for the upcoming year. Table 1 agreed that “being nice to everyone” has immense value. While a seemingly easy feat, niceness is contagious and can permeate the trenches of an organization, shaping it on all sides.

The evening concluded with a debrief in which attendees were asked to share what was discussed at their tables. Forum members shared their hopes for the future—a future where we are mindful, respectful, and constantly learning.  

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