#Breaking the bias in the workplace

On 8 March, International Women’s Day asks a provocative and necessary question, ‘how can we break the bias?’.  

International Women’s Day is the starting point for a year-long campaign to move away from conversation and action. The theme for this year, #Break the Bias, embraces a wide range of issues from equality, diversity and inclusion to bias, stereotyping and discrimination. This year’s theme aims to create a world where we can forge women’s equality together. 

Unconscious gender bias in the workplace can be a challenging yet critical subject. How can we discuss its implications without offending others and have healthy conversations productively? Like most topics concerning progress we all have a role to play. Here is a guide Centre for Inclusive Design has put together for today, and every other day, as we continue to move toward breaking the bias.   

Know what gender bias in the workplace looks like.  

Gender bias is like humidity on a rainy summer day. You can feel it, but you can’t see it or catch it. In its most simplistic form gender bias is a tendency to preference one gender over another. It’s a form of unconscious bias or implicit bias which happens when we make assumptions about another individual or group. Everyone’s biases are different, influenced by our background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context.  

Has a friend ever been talking, in a gender-neutral way, about their ‘boss’, and you assumed they were a man? Or have you ever been in a meeting and realised you were the only one excluded from the discussion, not because you had nothing to say, but because you were the only woman in the room? Many of us have unduly or unknowingly experienced or perpetuated the negative forces of gender bias at work. So, what can we do about it?  

Be aware of your own bias.  

We are all biased to some extent, it’s part of the human condition. Consciously becoming aware of it, however, and taking action to help curb unconscious bias will benefit everyone in your organisation. You can take several steps to check your own bias and create an inclusive workplace environment.  

Take time to reflect on your own bias and be proactive in identifying the negative stereotypes about others. Make an inventory of your own bias around gender, and be mindful you’re more likely to give into them when you’re under the pump or making quick decisions.   

Learn to slow down. Before jumping to conclusions about women or men in the workplace, remind yourself all people have individual characteristics and are separate from others within their group. Focus on all the things you have in common. Most importantly, understand overcoming our own bias does not happen in a one-day workshop. It’s a process that takes time, requiring constant mindfulness and work.  

Start the conversation.  

Once we’ve identified our own gender biases, we can all take steps to cultivate conversations raising awareness of unconscious bias. To get started, here are some tips on how to have those crucial conversations.   

  1. When discussing gender bias in the workplace, amplify the voices of minorities on the receiving end of discrimination. Women’s lived experiences are unique and varied, and their perspectives will provide the most valuable starting point to examine your workplace. 
  2. Listen to understand, not respond. Coming to terms with your own bias may be an overwhelming experience. It’s important to hear other voices and to take the time to consciously process what others are saying and consider their point of view. You’ll have time to respond thoughtfully, which will spark more productive conversations based on empathy.   

  3. Ask hard questions. Progress comes with discomfort. Ask your coworkers about their own experiences and listen to their responses. It could be as simple as a conversation over lunch or as large as a company-wide workshop. You won’t always get it right but get comfortable with being uncomfortable.