Break The Bias

International Women’s Day 2022 has come and gone and it was interesting to observe the focus of the #BreakTheBias events, who attended them and the #BreakTheBias activity on social media.  Women celebrating together, supporting and encouraging each other and advocating for change.  Men, celebrating women both known and unknown to them and putting their name to the cause.

Judging by the post-IWD discussions on LinkedIn, there are lots of us wondering about the value of international women’s day.  Is it a waste of time?  No.  Is it making a difference?  Possibly.  Will it create the change we need?  Absolutely not.

The campaign to achieve greater diversity is being fought hard by organisations and those seeking greater representation, voice and impact.  Not just in relation to male/female diversity but also gender diversity more broadly and the intentional inclusion of different cultures and generations and those with disabilities or neurodiversity; we need all these people in the room, being heard, if we are to achieve diversity of thought.

What we have so far is quotas, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) teams and strategies, culture change initiatives, pro-fairness/anti-bias measures embedded into recruitment/selection/promotion processes, dos and don’ts for corporate language and a gradually increasing willingness by organisations to publish pay gaps, bullying and misconduct claims.

These are all great initiatives which are helping contribute to the cause being won.  But discrimination persists.  Women, for example, are still reporting:

  • Being spoken over or cut off in meetings
  • Not being addressed by their name or title (when everyone else in the room is)
  • Fighting to be acknowledged for their ideas
  • Being judged more harshly
  • Being greeted with a kiss on the cheek, when their counterparts get a handshake
  • Being the victim of crude or derogatory behaviour
  • Listening to complaints from men about reverse discrimination
  • Being described as too aggressive, too emotional, too squeaky, too bossy, too apologetic…..

The list goes on.  Whether these behaviours amount to conscious or unconscious exclusion is not important.  The truth is that the responsibility for DEI rests just as much with individuals as it does organisations.  And it’s not on the individuals that are seeking to be included.  It’s for each and every one of us to take a good hard look at our shadow and explore how our own behaviour is effecting DEI progress.  It’s not enough to say the right things.  We also need to align what how we are behaving, what we are prioritising and what we are measuring.  Only then will we have a true sense of whether we are a genuine diversity ally and championing inclusion or someone who is standing in the way of progress.

From a leadership perspective, the statistics around the benefits of having greater diversity at the leadership level are still emerging and, regarding women in leadership in particular, quite varied.   What is widely accepted as a principle however, is that we can’t afford for organisational culture to be exclusive.  Greater diversity and inclusivity leads to improved innovation and improvement which is a clear win.   But achieving diversity isn’t just the responsibility of the organisations and those seeking inclusion.  The only way it will be achieved is if we all take a stand as individuals and actively and consciously champion change.  I’d encourage everyone, but particularly those who have historically not struggled to be included, to become an ally and a circuit breaker.

So what can you do?

  • Acknowledge that you have DEI responsibilities
  • Undertake the Harvard Implicit Association Test to improve awareness of your own biases, beliefs and preference
  • Get feedback on your shadow
  • Observe yourself in action
  • Ask others to call out your unhelpful behaviour (in case you don’t notice it)
  • Choose to challenge the unhelpful behaviour of others
  • Initiate improvements that promote inclusivity (such as measuring inclusive behaviours as part of existing 360 degree feedback)
  • Role model what a true ally looks like so others are encouraged to join you
  • Act with courage and do the right thing

Enough with the inspirational women’s networking breakfasts.  Enough with the once a year posts support for women.  It’s time for those that are standing in the way to get real and change their attitudes, behaviour and workplace culture.  Otherwise, as Holly Ransom said in the AHRI IWD 2022 #BreakTheBias event “If you walk past it you’re telling the world it’s ok.