Women in business: Implementing change to break biases
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Women in business: Implementing change to break biases

Women in business: Implementing change to break biases

While addressing the unconscious nature of certain biases, it is equally important to remember that these attitudes can be changed

Gulf Business

In a world abound with information overload, biases form an inherent part of our thinking. It is important to understand and admit that we all have biases and sometimes make decisions based on snap judgements, to perhaps aid in making quicker decisions.

These mental shortcuts, if you will – while helpful in certain cases, can often be harmful when applied to people. It is common for us to harbour beliefs and attitudes about groups of people based on their race, ethnicity, gender and other traits.

Bias can be explicit but more often than not, it is implicit that is, unconscious and often occurs when individuals unconsciously attribute certain attitudes and stereotypes to another person or group of people. This can ultimately affect how we understand and treat people. This year’s International Women’s Day encourages us to continue the conversation and #BreakTheBias.

The effects of gender bias in the workplace can be seen in many ways. Examples include when women receive less support and opportunities from organisations, are reviewed unfairly, and rewarded unequally. This can be tied to different circumstances in their lives as well, for example when returning from a career break or being a working mother – which sometimes sees a ‘penalty’ enforced by being treated unequally.

Another subtle example of acting on biases that can cause a negative impact is when women are interrupted and talked over more than men. This can be connected to unconscious bias, affecting who we think is powerful or influential enough to be or not to be interrupted. This may also alter others’ perceptions of a women’s confidence, ideas and credibility as a team member, and often leading to a woman being consciously or unconsciously overlooked in such cases.

These deep-rooted mindsets are critical for us to address, to collectively unlock the potential of gender parity. So, what can be done to #BreakTheBias?

Organisations can make a big difference when encouraging dialogue and raising awareness of conscious and unconscious bias at the workplace.

To change mindsets, it’s critical to raise awareness, combat gender stereotypes, and encourage a diverse culture that celebrates difference and dialogue. It is vital that senior leadership lead by example in creating better gender balance within an organisation, and furthering gender-smart solutions to build a more inclusive and fairer workplace. To demonstrate our commitment to gender equality, in 2018, our group CEO, Bill Winters signed a statement of support for the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles.

The World Economic Forum also reported last year that the pandemic widened the gender gap by 36 more years. Curing biases women face at work is integral in reversing the damage caused by the pandemic to gender balance at the workplace.

Changes can be implemented across many levels, especially during important moments in the year. For example: during performance feedback, managers and employees must remember to check their biases when receiving or giving feedback, keep a balanced and open mind by giving constructive feedback that is not influenced by stereotype or bias.

When creating a team for a new project, organisations can bring together a cognitively diverse team of men and women that is rich with diverse and shared experiences, with research pointing to such teams tending to produce better results and a better bottom line – than from a less gender diverse team.

While addressing the unconscious nature of certain biases, it is equally important to remember that these attitudes can be changed. Encouraging and creating systems that facilitate deliberate dialogue with new employees is also of paramount importance as well. This helps any new joiner to understand the significance of breaking biases is to the company. It is important to recognise that people come from different backgrounds, and work cultures – and while each individual has a collective responsibility to avoid bias, a strong and sustainable organisational culture goes above and beyond to ensure that employees are well aware and equipped to deal with this myriad of unfair and quick judgements.

While the gender agenda, gender equality and bias are rapidly dynamic and have seen significant progress, particularly in the region, there is still much work to be done to foster real change – and through these discussions on International Women’s Day and beyond, we believe we can make a positive impact towards women’s equality and create a step-change towards a diverse, inclusive and bias-free mindset.

Millicent Clarke is the regional HR head – Africa and Middle East at Standard Chartered

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