International Women’s Day falls on the 8th March – a day to celebrate women and their contributions to the world.
You will know that many organisations are working to change the representation of women at senior levels so they are more present in setting strategy and decision making. France recently reported about 40% of Boards are women in leading companies. Other countries have more progress to make.
There are reports that show the beneficial impact this has on the profitability of companies and many use this as an argument for the change.
More important, perhaps, is the moral argument that doors should be open to all to reach the top table – if women can’t get there then we are excluding 50% of the population and 50% of the talent. It also keeps women in lower pay brackets.
When we picture women at the top table in our heads, do we see women of colour there ? Do we see women with disabilities? Do we see openly gay women there ? These women are even less likely to sit at the top table experiencing a double bias against them.
Once they get there .. How well are they being listened to? Are they allowed to be their true selves in those senior roles or are they effectively adjusting their style to fit so much to men’s that they are in an exhausting pattern at work ? Are they being paid the same salary as the man sitting next to them at the table?
Have the senior men in the organisation recognised that they too can benefit from new ways of working and can perhaps work on getting a better balance in their lives?
So people talk of allyship and the theme of IWD this year is #break the bias. What can we all do to support all women moving on and up in our organisations?
Here are some actions to take, if you haven’t taken them already:
Understand our own hidden biases: few people are biased intentionally but our biases run deep – try doing the Harvard Implicit Association Tests about gender, racial bias and more. Their research using these tests show that even some women are biased against women and some people of colour against people of colour because of the insidious power of societal norms.
We can consciously address our biases when we know them better.
Work to counter our bias and biases we see in systems and processes at work. Sometimes we don’t notice bias until after an event – point it out later and commit to change it, nonetheless. Just because we have been using a system for a long time, and it seems to work, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Automated systems are often designed to repeat the bias that existed before in the analogue systems or even make them worse.. research shows evidence of bias in all stages of the recruitment process and in learning and development and performance review processes in organisations for example.
Encourage and support participation from people who may be ‘one of’ in the room: the only woman of colour, or the only woman with a disability, for example. Watch and listen harder in meetings.
Give praise to those who come up with ideas and do the work: for example research shows that women put forward ideas in a meeting and are ignored and then a man later puts forward the same idea and is given praise for it. Point this out if you see it happening. Better still, listen harder and respond to the good idea when it is presented by the woman in the first place.
Invite contributions from everyone in the room – or virtual meeting. Some people may find it harder contribute as they feel ‘other’ ( a woman of colour or someone who does not have English as a first language for example) – encourage their particular view. Believe their viewpoint and experience – it may be very different from your own and it will open up thinking and new possibilities.
Share the responsibility for making change happen: for example don’t dump the women of colour with the responsibility for improving things. If they are involved in change make sure they are paid for it properly and have enough time to do what is required. Encourage change, take action and support others to implement new ways of doing things. You may yourself belong to a group that experiences bias (as a white woman, for example),…however empower others who experience other types of bias in work as well.
Take good care of yourself as you work to make change happen – this work is difficult. Trying to achieve change can be exhausting and challenging. We need to spend time on self care to continue to advance.
I coach people wanting to create this shift in their organisation. I invite you to contact me for more information.
I wish you a happy International Women’s Day on March 8th and thank the women and men who have inspired, taught me, and opened up opportunities for me– and those I work with now for their energy commitment and vision to creating change.
#beatthebias #IWD2022 #inclusion #changingsystems #bias #coachingforchange #coachingforinclusion #leadershipcoaching
Want to read more ?
Blind Spot : Hidden Biases of Good People: Banaji and Greenwald Bantam Books: ISBN 978-0-345-52843-8 : 2013.
Living while Black : Guilaine Kinouani : Ebury Press: ISBN 978-1-52910-943-6: 2021
Women and Leadership: Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Penguin Books :ISBN 978-0-5521-7790-0: 2020.