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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth McFarlan Scott

4 Key Actions to #BreaktheBias

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to stop and reflect on what is being done to advance gender equity in the workplace. I love the 2022 theme of #BreaktheBias. The use of the word “break” is powerful and indicates the need for force, that it may be hard to do, could cause pain and results in things never being quite the same again.

I share the dream for a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, especially in the workplace. We have a long way to go. Gender bias is alive and well. I have seen and experienced it and it’s not always overt or intended – it can be both individualistic and systemic. It can rear its ugly head in such small and subtle ways that over time it chips away at our collective ability to achieve gender equity. Many women, myself included, choose to leave the situation in which they experience the bias and move on, leaving it unaddressed. International Women’s Day is a great reminder to recommit ourselves to take action to “break the bias”.

From my perspective, after 25+ years working in Human Resources at all levels, across various industries, at companies of different sizes and around the world there are 4 key actions that companies and leaders can take that play a role in breaking the bias:

1. Drive operational discipline in Total Rewards and Talent Management programs, policies and processes.

Gender bias is so deeply entrenched in our society that it can be difficult to recognize, especially in the workplace. The companies we work with that successfully move the needle have leaders who make a commitment to proactively deploy programs, policies, processes and performance measures that enable a workplace free of bias— gender or otherwise. They aren’t afraid to require a rigorous level of operational discipline to assess, modify and monitor practices across the employee lifecycle– from recruiting through to exiting employees. These companies understand that lip service and training are not enough.

They equip their managers and employees with the frameworks, guidelines and guardrails to ensure that the talent and compensation decisions made every day are free from bias. The approach may vary by company, but can include robust job architecture, rigorous external and internal selection or promotion practices, detailed compensation policies and guidelines and performance management processes that remove subjectivity as much as possible. No company is too small to begin thinking about getting a solid foundation in place, especially if they have ambitious growth plans.

2. Get more women in the “room”.

Let’s face it. At the end of the day there is a greater chance of breaking bias when there is more diverse representation. I have spent most of my career being the only woman in the room, especially as I reached the leader and executive level. To get more women in the room requires not only commitment, but investment – monetarily and otherwise – to attract, retain and develop more women.

The companies making a difference have invested heavily in recruiting and developing women. They have created environments that ensure focus and attention is on the work produced, not face time in the office, who went to happy hour or played golf after work. This will be especially important as we embark upon a hybrid workforce. Companies need to establish new approaches to the workplace that are applied consistently (i.e. everyone works 2-3 days from home) versus a haphazard approach that runs the risk of more men choosing to be in the office than women and potentially fosters the “facetime bias." Policies, programs and practices need to be reviewed in light of hybrid work to ensure gender bias does not creep in, especially when it comes to performance, promotion and compensation decisions.

3. Recognize bias and call it out in the moment.

I have lost count the number of times I have seen or experienced bias in meetings – whether it’s interrupting, mansplaining, or dismissing a comment made by a woman only to praise the same comment made by a man. Unfortunately, I can only count two times in my 25 years when someone spoke up – and these were profound moments that made all the difference. One was a colleague letting me know the behavior they saw was unacceptable and the other was an executive holding a peer accountable for praising a male colleague for saying something I had repeatedly said previously, but had been ignored. In both these cases I’m not sure the person even knew what they were doing was gender biased. It is so important that when we see this kind of behavior we address it in the moment not only to educate others, but also to affirm and support the experience so the individual does not feel defeated and continues to forge ahead. Progress requires real time education and support.

4. Proactively mentor and support women in the workplace.

It is hard to climb anything without being able to imagine yourself at the top and getting support throughout the journey. I am grateful for the mentors in my career and, without them I am not sure I would have achieved what I have. Some were women and they were vitally important in teaching me to be strong, speak up, and take initiative. However, I watched many of them struggle as they had families and, unfortunately, most slowed their career trajectory or stepped off the train completely. I was lucky to also have male mentors in leadership roles who gave me opportunities and took risks on me when I was still junior in my career. Whether male or female, individuals in leadership roles can break the bias by providing women not only with mentorship and encouragement, but more importantly by opening doors and proactively providing opportunities for development and growth.

At Nua Group we “stand with companies where people matter” and, on International Women’s Day we are proud that many of the companies we work with are driving change by implementing operational discipline, getting more women in the room, recognizing bias and providing mentorship and support to women in the workplace. I am hopeful that this level of focus and dedication will increase. Let’s do this.

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