The world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th. This year’s theme “Break the Bias” challenges us all to examine how our thoughts and actions can help form a more equitable world.
Many theories have been put forward about why women face bias, especially in the workplace. Some talk about lack of assertiveness among women while others point to a lack of ambition, compared to men. With data clearly showing women earning more college degrees than men, the notion that women lack ambition compared to men does not appear to hold weight. However, we cannot earn our way into top positions by education and desire alone.
Women have to continuously swim against the tide of bias and the continuous reinforcement of men’s primary role in the workplace, especially in senior leadership. For BIPOC professionals, the struggle is even more profound. The question is not only how to “break the bias” but also how to continuously combat the narratives, stereotypes, and systems that continue to reinforce biases.
Identify your own unconscious bias through self-reflection and continuous learning. Do you find yourself using different language when giving feedback to your female direct reports versus their male counterparts? Are you internally (or externally) questioning women’s competency and ability to rise to a challenge, stretch beyond her current role, handle tough conversations? Is that impression accurate or rooted in unconscious bias?
If we open up our minds to the possibility of living with bias, how women have to keep disrupting it and look for how bias shows up in our own lives, we can start changing our behavior.
Beyond participating in an unconscious bias training, you can educate yourself on the experiences of Black and Brown women, members of the LGBTQA+ community, and people with disability. Read books to better understand women, people of color, and gender bias. In addition to books that equip you with the specific knowledge to understand and mitigate bias, incorporate books that help you have a more well-rounded view of their lived experiences--their humanity. Check out books like All Report by Diane Primo, The Memo by Minda Harts, Home For Hurricanes by Nikki Murphy and Brave Journeys by the HerStory Writers Workshop.
Nurture A Culture Of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Hire, develop, promote and create safe spaces for people who look different than you and those who are not adequately represented in your organization. In other words, invest. When we allow the chips to fall as they may, we become accomplices in perpetuating the status quo. We may not think allowing the “status quo” is all that bad but when we consider that it has produced inequitable, and often abysmal results when it comes to diversity, then inaction is quite harmful.
To truly understand a person, you have to be in relationship. Coffee chats, team lunches, allotting time to really check in on how people are doing during your 1:1 meetings are ways to do this. Building relationships across difference will connect you more deeply with your colleagues and lead with greater empathy.
If you are involved in hiring decisions at your organization, build a diverse team. Also, be sure not to criticize or discourage diverse hiring managers from hiring qualified diverse candidates. White male colleagues are not criticized for hiring a qualified candidate that looks like them. We must examine and question any uneasy feelings that may come up when we see women supporting women or any member of a diverse community supporting someone in their community. Recognize that we are all working toward a goal of more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. This—examining of uneasy feelings and questioning whether you would have the same feelings if it was someone that looked like you—is also part of the work in breaking the bias.
Foster an inclusive culture. Listen to understand. Create safe spaces where women can freely voice their ideas and concerns. Train your people to lead with empathy, to reward results, to appreciate the varying ways people lead.
Be An Effective Ally
Men and women must share the responsibility of disrupting bias for change to happen. Interrupt bias when you see it. For example, if you witness someone interrupting a woman in a meeting, redirect the conversation back to her. It could be as non-confrontational as, “I would love to hear what Tiffany was stating.” Solicit the input of women in meetings, decision-making, and strategy development to show you value their perspective. The benefits of diversity are realized when we hear from and value the perspective, thoughts, and experiences of everyone in the room.
Consider ways you can be an ally or accomplice to women in the workplace and at home. A study by McKinsey shows that women, especially mothers, are up to three times as likely as their male partners to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. Make sure household chores are distributed more equitably. Remember that your children are highly observant and learn more from our actions than our words.
As we know, awareness of bias is not enough. We must live our commitment to equality so that it never becomes a banner we remind ourselves to put on at work. We need to act.
DEI speaker, Monique Murphy’s talks about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Race, Gender, and Social Justice; and more inspire professionals to take action. Murphy is an awarded DEI speaker, poet, financial literacy advocate, wife, mother, and award-winning author of Home For Hurricanes: A Memoir of Resilience in Poetry & Prose. She leverages her corporate leadership experience, DEI expertise, and elements of her personal story of resilience help her audiences become intentional about thriving in life and work.