It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022! And for this year’s theme #BreakTheBias, I would like to share my story on how I became aware of and learned to manage unconscious bias.
I grew up with a very traditional set of beliefs and came to realize that my biases were holding me back and affecting my decision-making. I am convinced that reducing unconscious bias – at a personal and a company level – is a key lever to push for more gender equality and diversity.
How did I challenge my biases and how are we tackling our biases as an organization? Here are my experiences on how to #BreaktheBias.
Becoming aware of unconscious bias
I grew up in a conservative environment in rural Germany. I was brought up with very traditional beliefs concerning gender, skin color, family composition and physical abilities. As a girl, I learned early on that there is a difference between how girls and boys are supposed to behave. I often was told: “You’re too loud,” “You’re too ambitious,” and “Wait until you are asked”.
“Many of the core beliefs I grew up with were biased.”
I have come a long way in recognizing how one-dimensional and wrong my views were of many parts of the world, my own capabilities and opportunities; and how biased I still am. My biases stood in my way and prevented me from speaking up and being bold.
“Looking back, my biases held me back from leaning in when I should have.”
Moreover, my biases affected my decision-making when it came to hiring and promoting people. I learned that my assessment of the potential of women was less favorable.
The majority of senior leaders have grown up many decades ago, as I have. They have been raised with beliefs similar to mine. I am certain that this has a significant impact on today’s corporate culture and diversity at work. Being aware of this, however, is not enough. We have to change it!
We Need Change to Break the Bias
Understanding that we all have biases and that this has consequences is a useful step, but we need to take it further. Managing bias is how actual change happens.
“We need to empower people to break their biases, change their behavior, and reflect on their progress.”
How can we get there?
1. Data and Transparency
Data can be a powerful tool to bring biases in your organization to light. For example, at our company we looked at our recruiting data and found out that more than 20 percent of the applicants were women. We invited this 20 percent for interviews; however, less than 10 percent of the total offers were extended to women. This was a real eye-opener. Data analysis empowered us to pinpoint bias in our processes in order to counter these purposefully.
2. Unconscious Bias Trainings
We need effective unconscious bias trainings that focus not only on raising awareness, but also on enabling participants to tackle their biases and change their behaviors. At our organization, everyone takes part in unconscious bias trainings. It is an ongoing learning trajectory, not a one-time event.
3. Feedback Culture
Establishing an environment of trust and psychological safety at work with a healthy feedback culture is important for so many reasons, but also because it allows people to speak up about bias and to learn from each other through constructive feedback. From my own experience, I know that receiving open and honest feedback from direct reports and employees has been invaluable.
4. Long-term Commitment
As an organization, a long-term and company-wide commitment to cultural and structural change is a core driver to sustainably reduce bias and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. At our company, we have fundamentally overhauled our recruiting processes. We have set diversity targets and incentives, and continuously measure these to ensure we are on track. Additionally, we have targets that are tied to our bonus payment.
Outsmarting your biases is an ongoing journey – as a person and as an organization. It’s no easy ride, but it is not just worth it, it’s simply the right thing to do.
#BreakTheBias: My key learnings
Overcoming biases is a marathon, not a sprint. To push for effective organizational change, a thorough review of all processes and policies, for example regarding hiring or people development, needs to take place. A move from simply being aware of unconscious bias to actual change, requires long-term management commitment, target-setting and tracking progress, and offering ongoing support and concrete tools for everyone.
With the theme #BreakTheBias, IWD2022 puts the spotlight on a vital lever for progress on gender equality, diversity and inclusion. Breaking biases brings us further in creating workplaces that celebrate differences and thrive on diversity.
How do you break the bias? I am looking forward to hearing your experiences here on my blog or on my LinkedIn channel.