Are we holding ourselves back in the biases we may be harbouring without even realising it?

Read columnist Julie Helen's weekly column
Are we holding ourselves back in the biases we may be harbouring without even realising it?

Julie Helen, WoW columnist.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day 2022 takes place today, March 8. This year’s theme is #BreaktheBias, so we are challenging our bias or stereotypes of what women can do or who they can be. For me, I want to share a recent story of my own bias, my own view of who I could be as a woman.

When I had a baby, it changed how I saw myself in the world. Motherhood is something I always wanted to experience and I embraced it as best I could. I remember when I went back to work, I mentioned very often that I had just returned from maternity leave, as if by way of apology for not being up to speed with what was going on.

Then our organisation did a workforce plan which engaged a female external consultant to figure out a new company structure for us. She interviewed each individual staff member as part of her work. In my interview, I explained how I had been on maternity leave and so I was a bit “at sea” in myself. I was surprised at how sternly yet supportively she explained how I should never talk about being on maternity leave at work by way of explaining myself, that it was something I was entitled to and was nobody else’s business except my own.

As a result of that conversation, the same consultant asked to meet with me after her initial piece of work. She was a highly respected professional, so I was intrigued by the meeting. She explained that she wanted to have a conversation with me because she realised in our work together that I had a really good grasp of our organisation and I played an important role in it and again was actually highly respected within my work. But she felt that I didn’t know that about myself and that I wasn’t backing myself for promotion as others, particularly my male counterparts, may have been.

We explicitly spoke about the impact I felt having a child might have on my career and also about whether or not I wanted to progress in professional roles. This conversation changed everything for me. 

My own bias of being a woman, a mother and if I am completely honest, probably a disabled woman too, had been holding me back. The stereotype of men being before me, had crept into the way I thought about my own life plan.

If you had asked me if I had felt like I was less capable than my male colleagues, I would have dismissed you out of hand; but I wasn’t acting that way. I expected my male colleagues to be my manager or to move on from the organisation when bigger roles were not available to them. On the other hand, I stayed in the organisation myself and I hadn’t considered promotion as an option as a new Mum.

Luckily, once my eyes were opened, I spoke to family and friends, both men and women, and I went about putting myself forward for a management job that came up, I wouldn’t have done so without the intervention of someone who saw potential in me and pointed out a bias I didn’t even realise I had.

So, my wish for International Women’s Day this year, in breaking the bias, is to look within ourselves as women and see if we are holding ourselves back in the biases we may be harbouring without even realising it.

When we identify those biases, we must take the leap to break them, to believe in ourselves, to become who we want to be, because if we don’t nobody else will!

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