With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, one would think we've entered a new era when it comes to gender bias.
Perhaps women are safe from discrimination and harassment. Maybe the modern workplace is more of a meritocracy.
But in order for gender bias in the workplace to come to an end, it's going to take a team effort across all genders and identities. And it's going to take more than top-down policies to make it happen.
Here are some ways you can take an active role in this change.
1. Explore your own biases.
We all walk through the world every day with biases. It's possible, however, that you have biases that you aren't even aware of.
These are called implicit biases. A first, private step you can take to work towards breaking down gender bias in the workplace is to explore your own implicit biases.
Harvard University has an ongoing investigation called Project Implicit. You can take a scientific quiz and learn about your own biases.
The project explores thoughts and feelings largely outside of our active control. It's led by a team of scientists who explore behaviors that influence action. (Science is cool. It's also pretty cool that you can take this step in private and at the same time, contribute to leading research in the behavioral science realm.)
By uncovering our own biases, we can take an active first step in owning how we show up in the world and workplace.
It's not that your quiz results need to be circulated around the workplace. They can, however, serve as a springboard for conversations within any group of a company tasked with affecting change, from the reception suite to the C-suite.
You can't counter biases you don't know exist.
2. Find an empathetic way to speak to folks.
“There are some behaviors that are simply wrong and must be dealt with swiftly," says Angel Gambino, founder and CEO of Sensai, an artificial intelligence-driven social media tool. “Yet, we must also remember that as soon as we tell someone they are wrong, they stop listening."
So how can you address bad behavior and keep the door open to conversation that can break down workplace gender bias?
Turns out that empathy is key.
“We must all educate each other about the impact of certain words and actions, and that responsibility of education and communication oftentimes requires formal and informal training, coaching, mentoring and feedback," says Gambino.
“Creating a culture that values equity and empathy while also providing resources is an important way to remove gender bias, rather than developing yet another diversity or sexual discrimination program that may often exacerbate gender bias."
3. Own your voice.
Every voice is important in the battle against gender bias. Your voice matters and it deserves to be heard.
This means not only speaking up when you see others act in a way that marginalizes women, but also women owning their voices and speaking up for themselves.
Fredda Hurwitz, chief strategy and marketing officer for RedPeg Marketing, spent years in previous positions where she knew she was underpaid. Dissatisfied with her work environment, she reached out to a life coach to explore what could change.
“With her guidance, I recognized that I was angry at my bosses for empowering me on the one hand, but not recognizing me on the other," says Hurwitz.
So ahead of her annual review, she articulated a list of points as to why they should promote her and give her a raise.
“At my review, I told my two male superiors that this time I was going to speak first, and they were going to listen," she says. "I stated my case, backed up with solid points and then said, 'You have not promoted me but you expect me to deliver against a C-suite role. I don't care if there aren't any other global chief strategy officers—I'm good at what I do and I deserve to be recognized.'"
"They both looked at me and said nothing," Hurwitz continues. "They finally arrived at the decision that I would get the raise and the title, although they noted it wouldn't be easy. They then promised me that they would do better moving forward, and they did."
Thanks to Hurwitz using her voice, two fellow women colleagues had the ammunition they needed to speak up for their own promotions to the C-suite and commensurate raises.
4. Be the change you want to see in the world.
Mahatma Ghandi got it right with his famous quote, yet we all struggle day-to-day to make better decisions. One way to help break down gender bias at the workplace is to work and lead in ways that empower everyone who surrounds us.
“If we want to create better gender dynamics that bring out the best in everyone, then we must constantly look within first to ensure we are behaving consistently with the message we are conveying to our teams and employees and everyone we interact with on a daily basis," says Gambino.
“We all have certain assumptions or default positions based on our life experience that influence our perceptions," she continues. "When we feel confident enough to recognize and share these, then we have an opportunity to create a safe space for others to do the same and then a dialogue can begin."
5. Engage in a vocabulary makeover.
Whenever you use the phrase “for a woman," you're reinforcing men as the standard. Using this phrase alone can come across as though you already think less of a woman—and her work. Pluck it out of your vocabulary.
While we're on the subject, there's no need to add “female" in front of a job. Whether remarking about a female CEO or female developer, they're each a CEO and a developer with the requisite talents inherent in each occupation.
Save the letters and just call these women what they are. It's not about being politically correct or polite. It's about respect—for both the person and the work being performed.
And that's what ending gender bias in the workplace is all about, isn't it? Creating an environment where each person in an organization is valued, respected, heard and empowered.
There's nothing in that scenario where anyone comes out holding the short end of the stick.
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