This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is #BreakTheBias. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias can make it difficult for women to move ahead. I virtually ‘sat down’ with some of my colleagues from Canada, India, and the US to discuss how they combat bias in the workplace.
For me, International Women’s Day is inspiring because it is celebrated all over the world. Now more than ever, many of us are universally focused on practicing empathy and understanding the different perspectives of those who may not live where we do. This year in particular, I was especially grateful to speak with Silverliners across the globe on how they #BreakTheBias.
Do you have any tips to help proactively combat bias in the workplace?
Emily Saka, UI/UX Manager (Brooklyn, New York): I think it’s so important to create opportunities to learn about and celebrate one another as individuals. My team has kicked off the year by creating personal vision boards and taking various personality tests (like Adobe Creative Types and enneagrams) to learn about how we each approach problems and measure success. We also have weekly team bonding sessions where we take turns sharing videos and podcasts that align with our interests both in and out of work. Our biases kick in to help us navigate the “unknown”; by fostering numerous opportunities to turn your teammates into “known” entities, and to celebrate how their unique strengths add value to the team, your team can truly start to understand and appreciate one another based on who you really are.
I also think it’s important to challenge your biases by surrounding yourself with diverse examples of success. From the mentors and mentees you choose in your professional career, to the experts whose podcasts and articles you follow, to the artists whose movies you watch and books you read, bringing diverse influences into your world helps to break down unconscious biases you might hold about particular groups of people.
Victoria Smith, VP, Consulting and Professional Services (Toronto, Canada): I think it’s important to acknowledge bias in the workplace exists and to talk about it. If an executive is fighting through and pretending that bias doesn’t happen, it really doesn’t help anyone. We are a very collaborative and transparent team, if we see an incident (internally or externally) we work together to rectify it. One of the strongest strategies we have around this is to ensure women have a voice, we are very proud that 75% of our executive team and 30% of our technical team are female.
Jill Winegar, Director, HLS (New York, New York): Fortunately, tech and consulting have a very diverse and talented pool of workers, gender included. With the rise of STEM programs and initiatives designed to encourage women to take part in them, I am even more enthusiastic about the future of women in these industries. With more women entering this field, the balance will be more equitable.
Priti Joseph, HR Specialist (Bangalore, India): I strongly believe that it’s easier to tackle a bias by touching young minds. The results may not be immediate, but it definitely helps create a better tomorrow. In my case I have two boys, aged 4 and 7, and that’s where I try to question their bias, especially when they are more open on these questions. I try to teach my kids that boys can also take control of the kitchen when Amma (mom) has an important work task to finish or a meeting to attend. Appa (dad) can also take control when they fall sick or need help with morning rituals. I make them more acceptable to the fact that being a nurturer is not defined by gender at all.
Are there any ways you’ve had to combat bias in the past?
Jill Winegar: Given my tenure in this field, I’ve often been the only woman “in the room” and felt I needed to rise to the occasion perhaps more than my male colleagues needed to, as there were invisible nuances.
Emily Saka: I’ve found myself in many situations throughout my career where I’ve been some combination of the only female, the only racial minority, and/or the youngest person in a room. The biases that others form about these attributes usually come off as microaggressions: a literal seat at the table not put out for me in a meeting room; being skipped in a roundtable discussion; a client shaking everyone else’s hand or asking everyone else on the team to grab a beer after a meeting.
It’s hard to not get flustered or take it personally. But it’s important to remember that every opportunity you have to interact with another person is a chance to change that bias. Be confident in what qualifies you to have a seat at that table, and when it’s your moment to speak, have faith that your intelligence and competency will come through in the work that you do.
Victoria Smith: I have so many stories where I was asked to get the coffee, my opinion was overlooked, or clients assumed that I am the more junior resource. Often the person is embarrassed as their assumption comes from unconscious bias, but by tackling it head on (politely), my hope is that I make a difference for the next woman.
Priti Joseph: I am working today but had a long career break of close to 6 years due to maternity. When I tried to get back to work, most of the workplaces had the bias of nurturer vs. provider. So it’s an assumption that I am the only nurturer for my family and so my work commitment will be sidelined. I had to face the bias and wait for an organization that was ready to accept me with my nurturer responsibilities and was supportive of my dreams to be a provider as well.
Final thoughts to share on this IWD 2022?
Victoria Smith: I am excited to pave the way in a technical industry for other women. I lead a technical delivery team of around 40 people and I am a mother of 2 gorgeous girls (Mya & Ava). My daughters already point out things they are excluded from because they are girls and it’s extremely hard to see how early bias starts. By acknowledging days like today and putting a spotlight on all biases, my hope is that when they are older the workplace has overcome these issues.
Priti Joseph: It’s very difficult to change, especially when our minds are older, but what can be done is to be open to listen and give a chance to another perspective. And you never know after listening to it 20 times, on the 21st try your thought process may have changed. I also feel it’s a notion that a woman is the only nurturer in a family, though that’s not true with the changing trends in our society. We just have to accept the changing trends and be vocal about it.
Emily Saka: Yes! Don’t be afraid to speak up to people you trust about how others’ biases might be negatively affecting you. Many people are more than willing to be allies if they only knew how they could help. I’ve benefited from allies who, upon hearing I’d been overlooked in a meeting, actively ensured that I was included in the next one or, upon hearing that I hadn’t been thanked at the end of a session, made an extra plug for me to ensure that I received proper credit. This not only made the other person confront their bias, but it also encouraged my ally to check their own biases, as well as gave me examples that improved my ability to be an ally in a similar situation moving forward.
Jill Winegar: Silverline is an inclusive employer and I feel valued and heard. I also give kudos to the fact that there is a mentoring program where we are able to nurture the next generation, irrespective of gender, economics, or discipline. This program is a human-first approach and is beneficial for both mentor and mentee as we continue to evolve into a progressive, cross disciplinary, and hopefully more empathetic world.
Silverline encourages a culture that #BreaksTheBias
Knowing that bias exists is a start, and together, we can all break the bias — on IWD and beyond!
Every Silverliner I spoke with has had different situations and experiences, and all have worked to overcome challenges in their technology careers. The common thread amongst all was seeing the path to a gender-equal world in the actions that each of us takes every day.
Strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias thoughts on social media using #IWD2022 and #BreakTheBias to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world with us. Check out our Careers page if you’d like to join Silverline’s team.