World events seemingly continue to surprise us all, even when we think something isn’t quite possible, it happens, and the news ripples quickly in our connected world. Of particular interest to Works for Women, we saw the recent deployment of more than 8,000 Starbucks company-owned stores and offices across the United States closed for an afternoon in May for a conversation and learning session on race, bias and the building of a diverse and welcoming company. While this work is intended to be the foundation of a longer-term Starbucks anti-bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion effort, it doesn’t preclude the ripple of effect of one act that was seen around the world.
Taking a page out of an article that our co-founder, Erin Davis, wrote back in March, the pace and frequency of conversation about women's rights continues to rise. We've seen the Women's March on Washington, the placement of the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, the #MeToo movement and, most recently, the #TimesUp letter of solidarity. Voices for women's equality, advancement and advocacy continue to gain momentum, but are they making a difference? Are we catalyzing change on a global scale, or are we simply continuing an outdated conversation for women's equality? Whether or not you believe that the right conversation is happening, it can be argued that the rate of change (if any change at all) is not fast enough for our heightened expectations for quality. Data continue to show us that we are not moving toward equality, despite our best intentions. According to Catalyst research, women currently only hold 25 (5.0 percent) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, but certainly, the candidate pool is much larger.
So, what is holding us back? While grassroots movements can create dialogue and spark conversation around gender parity, they have not yet fueled enough fire to evolve our thinking, or pushed through our own discomfort to see substantive change. If we are to challenge the status quo and impact change, we must consider how our biases, conscious or unconscious, are affecting our daily conversations and practices. For the month of September (and beyond), we are challenging our network to take stock of their own biases.
September Challenge – Managing Our Biases
On our journey to become more inclusive leaders, we must take the opportunity to self-reflect and understand what can make us the best leaders. Inclusive leaders make everyone feel welcome and appreciated, which in turn leads to more innovation, more team citizenship behaviour, and more feelings of belongingness and uniqueness in employees. However, unconscious biases can sometimes get in the way of being a truly inclusive leader.
Unconscious bias speaks to the inclination or preference formed without reasonable justification that can prevent judgement from being balanced, which can sometimes results in prejudice or bias. We cannot eliminate our behaviours, but certainly we can create a level of awareness around the decisions we are making – for example, being as informed as we can be. Research tells us that unconscious bias occurs when our brain creates shortcuts. These shortcuts, while important when we need to make quick decisions, also cause us to make quick assessments or judgments of people and situations without realizing the unintended consequence. Unconscious bias exists in each person's worldview and affects our behaviour from our home to our workplace. We all bring unconscious biases into the workplace. These deeply subconscious attitudes span race, gender, appearance, age, wealth and much more. They influence everything from the car you drive to the employee you promote and the one you don’t. And because they are so reflexively triggered without our knowledge, they are virtually uncontrollable.
These biases could include the tendency to associate with people who remind us of ourselves, or searching for information in a way that confirms our own perceptions and firmly held beliefs. These actions maintain the status quo within the organization and do not challenge the established norms that may be excluding underrepresented people in the organization. The facts show us that conscious or unconscious, biases are not moving the dial when it comes to gender parity in the workplace. Perhaps the conversation needs to move to the root cause of inequality – addressing our own biases. We all have unconscious bias, which often creates barriers to inclusion.
Understanding our own biases and bringing them to our awareness, can help to build strong, more diverse and inclusive organization, and allow us all to be more inclusive leaders. Are we growing through our daily practices, and forcing ourselves outside of our comfort zones – to lean into the discomfort and take pause in trying something new?
To join the challenge:
To create change, the ask is simple – to give others a chance; engage in critical self-reflection; and above all, get to know people by making personal connections. Let's take the step forward with our own self-awareness – the one thing under our own control.
There is an abundance of resources out there to help you in your journey, here are a few:
In closing, thank you again for helping to spark dialogue, build awareness, and inspire action. We are reminded that change does not happen overnight, but by uniting our community we can take direct action to impact change. Works for Women is continuing to build a better place for women to lead!