4 ways to break the bias at work

This year, International Women’s Day had us reflecting on the biases that can negatively affect women throughout their careers. A recent survey by the WeAreTech group found 52 per cent of women feel their gender has limited their career in technology, while 60 per cent said they’ve experienced microaggressions in the workplace.

To continue to build an inclusive and fair society, breaking the bias must be a priority. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense. A study by Catalyst, a non-profit community working globally to help build workplaces that work for women, found organisations with more female management enjoy 35 per cent higher return on equity than firms that lack gender diversity.

We need to recognise the biases that exist and continue to challenge them in four important ways:

1. Make the unconscious, conscious

There are many types of bias. Conscious biases, those prejudgements we’re aware we make, can be easier to spot but often go unchallenged. While unconscious biases, those assumptions we don’t even realise we make, are often difficult to identify as they seep out in the everyday and are often common across a social context.

While it’s important to create a culture that encourages people to challenge conscious biases, addressing unconscious bias will take a much more concerted effort. Organisations will need to call out structures that could disadvantage women, train employees to acknowledge their own biases and support people to do something about them.

A simple way to do this is for leaders to conduct a mini audit of their teams. Assess who they represent and who they don’t to identify any shortcomings. Then focus on understanding how bias manifests itself through open sharing forums that call out where bias typically exists and discusses practical steps to solve it.

2. Analyse and track diversity data

Truly understanding the disparities will take advanced tracking and analysis, but most organisations don’t dive deeply into their diversity data. Only 28 per cent review gender difference in performance ratings and just 44 per cent examine engagement surveys by gender.

Identify areas where there are diversity challenges, such as recruitment and performance management, through engagement surveys and exit interviews. Then analyse the data to understand root causes of barriers. With this understanding, you’ll be able to develop a strategy to correct the structural bias at work.

3. Develop and implement policies that address structural bias

Central to this strategy should be a plan to change the policies, processes and procedures that can perpetuate bias. Analyse the employee experience across career frameworks, remuneration, recruitment and resourcing, and look at how to redesign them to better support women.

For example, examine your working families strategy. Does parental leave emphasise equity to encourage men to take time out too? Are there barriers to women returning to work after maternity leave? Do you adapt performance measurement to ensure returning women have time to adjust?

4. Create a safe environment to speak up

Structural changes must happen alongside cultural changes. Everyone should be mindful of their own patterns of thinking, feel safe in calling out bias and not make excuses for unacceptable behaviour.

Try acting as an ally in meetings and find ways to amplify the voices of those who aren’t being recognised or included. Notice who’s getting interrupted and who gets the credit for a good idea and speak up if you recognise inequity. Setting this example will start delivering the required culture change.

Bias is complex and responding to it is a group effort. So, think about the practical ways you can break the bias in your day-to-day life. Whether you’re a senior leader who can create and influence policy or someone who wants to support a safe environment for women to thrive in, commit to a few actions that will better support women.

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