Whenever I talk to any group about unconscious bias, if there is not an air of passive aggressive defensiveness (I’m not biased! What are you suggesting?) there can be a sense of helplessness. There is a clear and recognisable feeling of powerlessness in the face of corporate intractability. What can I do I am asked? I’m not senior enough. But the fact is that although unconscious bias around gender or any other issue can’t be eliminated, it can be managed to create a bias conscious culture in any organisation. And although shifts in corporate culture are leadership initiatives and top down driven, we can all play a part. Small steps taken by large numbers of people can make a difference.
Some things we can all do to create a bias conscious culture
#Step 1 – Run inclusive meetings
If you are a manager make a commitment to run inclusive meetings. Research shows that alpha personalities tend to dominate any group and can even stifle creative thought. Allow the more introverted members of your team (male and female) to speak, preferably first. Be mindful of interruptions and the correct the attribution of ideas if you see misappropriation. If you notice someone being cut off or left out – make an effort to include them. If you are a woman at the table call upon other women or at least reference them by name in a visible show of support. A bias conscious culture won’t happen on its own and you can make a difference.
#Step 2 – Keep gender on the agenda
Whether as an employee or leader always ensure that gender balance is on the agenda. Be mindful of any gaps and consider how can they be filled. This can be in skill set development, succession planning or even event organisation. How many women are in place and if not many how can we get them ready to participate and contribute? Look at the way women are represented (or under represented) in your organisation and reflect how that could be changed or improved.
#Step 3 – Flag up “manels”
The proliferation of male dominated panels even organised by Heads of Diversity and HR is far too high. If a panel is not gender balanced, suggest the inclusion of women or even refuse to participate – especially men. If the organisers say they don’t know any available women send them to 3Plus. If you are a participant – speak to the organisers.
#Step 4 – Call out male coded messages
This can be the artwork on the office walls or images in reception. Check out any infographics we see in our stream, product advertising, job profiles or any other documents and even the decor of the break-out rooms. If the focus is male, whether directly or otherwise, contact the originator or decision maker to effect changes.
# Step 5 – Flag up male coded reward systems and events
If your organisation is still holding team development or sales incentive meetings at go-cart tracks or rugby games suggest alternatives that might appeal to the group as a whole. Propose mixing things up to get some variety to suit a range of interests. Make corporate hospitality more female friendly. Look at the timing of any events. Women are still the primary carers in most cultures. Are you scheduling any events at times which cause conflicts for women?
# Step 6 – Support feedback
A bias conscious culture relies on the creation of an environment where it’s not considered intrusive or offensive to give feedback to colleagues or even bosses about potential bias. Make it a normal part of your discussion. We all do it from time to time. The important thing is to understand well that unconscious bias can only be managed. Be mindful of your own potential biases and check-in for the input of peers and your team. If your hires all have the same academic background as you, speak the same first language, or come from the same geographic region, chances you are displaying some degree of affinity bias.
#Step 7 – Call for diverse candidate shortlists
If you are in HR or in a hiring role call for gender balanced short lists. Enough voices will make a difference! It’s not enough to have one female applicant or diverse CV. You are setting that person up to be cut. Make sure you have a minimum of 3 CVs for each role.
For anyone who thinks that they are not biased in any way, take time to complete the Harvard Implicit Bias Test – it will be an eye opener. If it makes you feel better I exhibit tendencies towards gender bias. You can also watch this video by Kristin Pressner.