AS a woman and mother to a daughter (and two sons), I‘m passionate about achieving gender equality in the workplace.
As a life coach and workshop facilitator, I have focused considerable energy in the last decade on empowering women through my bespoke training programmes and coaching sessions and I have heard first-hand the challenges women face relative to bias across many organisations.
I see the opportunity and the responsibility to use my role to increase awareness on these challenges and offer tools to break down the barriers and biases that hinder their success.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #BreakTheBias; 73% of women experience bias at work — yet less than a third of employees are able to recognise bias when they see it.
Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted and negatively impacts their day-to-day work experiences.
To compound this, in the last 12 months, I am hearing an overwhelming number of stories from women about how the pandemic has intensified challenges they face, with some opting to step back from roles due to increasing challenges at home, or not go for a promotion as they are already overwhelmed.
In 2021, McKinsey and company produced their annual survey, sharing a worrying set of statistics concerning women in the workplace; nearly 82% of women surveyed said their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic and nearly 70% of women who have experienced these disruptions are concerned that their career growth may be limited as a result.
This makes it difficult for companies to level the playing field.
So, let’s talk about bias – what is it and how does it impact in the workplace?
Biases are mental short-cuts that our brains use to make sense of the world around us. (Just think about your own upbringing and life experiences, and how they have influenced your view of the world.)
We all have biases. In fact, we can have biases that are either conscious, meaning that we are aware of our own prejudices, or unconscious, meaning we are not aware of them. While conscious bias or discrimination is generally regarded as a negative, it can often be easy to recognise and to address. Unconscious bias, on the other hand, can have a more adverse impact, primarily as we are unaware.
I will be giving several talks in March to celebrate IWD this year. The aim of my workshops is to educate and empower individuals and organisations on bias – we will look at the six types of bias that women face in the workplace, as well as how to how to identify and challenge bias. We will also review the impact of bias on decision-making at work, using specific examples.
Finally, we will explore the route to ‘de-biasing our organisations by focusing on our own individual responsibility, because as long as we make bias about other people or organisational culture, we are minimising our role to take ownership and make a real difference.
Of course, lots of significant progress has already been made in the field of gender equality globally. But looking at the broader data trends, it is shameful that fewer than 5% of CEOs in the U.S and Europe are women, and that women continue to be paid less than men for doing the same work.
For me, it’s unthinkable to imagine my daughter, Katie, entering the workforce in the next decade to face some of the same barriers our mothers did 50 years ago. So, we still have some real work to do.
We’ve been trying to tackle the world’s hardest problems with only 50% of our collective brainpower. It’s time for that to change.
By bringing more women into positions of power and influence, we can finally use the full measure of humanity’s talents and ambitions.
Gender equality is a moral and a business imperative, but unconscious bias holds us back. We need all the best ideas, and the most courageous and authentic leaders, to tackle the challenges ahead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gillian McGrath is a Cork based Life and Business Coach and experienced facilitator.
For more information, you can contact her directly on firstname.lastname@example.org