We all have biases
Biases: we all have them – every single one of us – and if we say we don’t, we’re not really being honest with ourselves.
We have so much in common, yet every one of us is unique - a different background, set of experiences, sense of ambition, likes and dislikes, assumptions, habits, superstitions. So, it is no surprise that we see things (and of course, people), differently. And the benchmark we use is ourselves.
We all have biases. Fact of life. I have several – none are rational, or evidence-based. They’re nonsense, but they’re there. I have to work really hard to not let them get in the way, and I am sure I often fail to do so.
Let’s not simply accept them: if we do, we’ll be holding ourselves back, we’ll be holding others back, and we’ll be missing out on a whole load of joint opportunity.
Covid broke some big biases and reinforced some others
Disruptive events can break down biases; Covid has proven that.
- Whenever before has a vaccine been created, developed, tested, certified and started to roll out safely in less than a year?
- How many people had to adjust their long-held scepticism that for some roles, working remotely, and purely digitally, can be effective?
- And how many people have fundamentally reassessed what they want to do with their lives as a result of Covid?
But they can also reinforce, and even exacerbate, others.
For women in the workplace, the pandemic has set things back overall, given persistent social norms and the balance of women and men across different sectors:
- Mothers were nearly three times as likely as fathers to report that they took on the majority or all of additional unpaid care work related to school or childcare facility closures
- Women are also experiencing more acute impacts on employment (a EU study in 2021 showed that as the economy improved in Poland, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, while employment prospects rose by 1.4% for men they only increased 0.8% for women)
Let’s keep breaking them
On International Women’s Day, this year’s theme is #BreakTheBias– let’s keep doing so, remaining mindful we can’t afford setbacks.
It’s never only about the demographic numbers, but they do show a snapshot.
In Diaverum, we are 73% women, but numbers are lower at higher levels. While 5 of our country managers (China, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, UK) are female, women still only represent 28% in the Senior Leadership Team across the company.
We have more to do.
What can I do?
No matter whether we are a woman or a man, are at an early or later stage in our careers, senior, junior or middle level, we can act individually to ensure we keep on breaking those biases.
Personally, I want to challenge the use of terms such as:
- ‘Women breaking the mould’
- ‘Women pushing through the glass ceiling’
- ‘Women in male-dominated jobs’
They are outdated phrases that, in themselves, are biases, of “just how things are”. I’ve been hearing them for 31 years in business now, and they are lazy, stereotyping terms that simply irritate me.
Of course, there are barriers, there are unconscious as well as conscious biases, and we all contribute to these in some way – including me, with my own silly ones. But we can all play a part in reducing them, and we all should.
- Create your own mould, because there isn’t one to break. Don’t get in the way of yourself
- And in turn, help others be themselves. Help them break their own biases. Our culture of True care at Diaverum is so core to us and so unifying – but it’s a golden thread, not a template for us to be clones
- Everyone has a brilliance, know what yours is and believe in it. Share a bold idea, put yourself forward for a new project, challenge your inner thoughts of “I’m not good enough”
- And in turn, go search for it in others – it probably won’t fit your own norms, but that’s the point: #breakthebias.
Be on your own path
- Get clear what you want to do, don’t settle passively for “we think this is what’s best for you”. Ask, listen, assess, make your own decisions. Self-advocate – make it happen, don’t wait and hope. Take a bit of risk – if you fail, you’ll learn something and get back up again
- And in turn, don’t hold back someone else with “this worked for me so it’ll probably work for you”. Don’t put your path onto someone else. Don’t diminish their aims, support them to achieve theirs.
Give me an example
Last week, as a company we announced a partnership with GenM to raise awareness about menopause - now there’s a bias to break!
It’s not a topic that has been talked about much openly in the workplace, or at all, until recently. And that is still only happening in certain countries, including the one where I live, the UK.
When I was growing up, menopause was a topic muttered under my mother’s breath (“the change”) with some embarrassment. There was very little awareness or understanding from anyone.
And yet, it’s something that 50% of the world goes through, for a number of years of their life. I’ve been going through it for 5 years; it’s not done yet and have no idea when I’ll be through the other side. There is no standard impact or experience; for some it’s minor, for some it’s life-changing. But awareness of what menopause actually means is universally low.
So why is this getting more prominence now?
More women across the world work for longer in their lives today
- More women across the world are in more positions of influence (41 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women – it’s not many, but it’s the highest it’s been)
- Employee well-being is something we all expect employers to have a focus on
- Communication has never been faster, more viral, more global
… just to share a few perspectives on possibly why.
There will be some reading this thinking menopause is an inappropriate, or even irrelevant topic to be discussing openly.
That in itself is a bias – we all have them. And they are hard to break and may linger, but we can and should challenge ourselves every day on issues that are “just how it is”.
Let’s all be curious, open-minded, and challenging with ourselves on how to work around them, for the good of us all.
Chief Business Officer