The theme of this International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. The request of all of us is to take action to build an inclusive and equitable world that values difference and diversity. But how do we do that? What are some simple actions that we can each take to #BreakTheBias?
What is bias?
Bias is the tendency to make decisions or take action in an illogical or irrational way.
Bias is a natural human phenomenon, which occurs because of the way that our brains work. Our brains are required to process vast amounts of information every day. And to conserve energy, they develop shortcuts to help us do that more efficiently.
Sometimes those shortcuts are helpful, for example when they keep us safe from danger, or help us sort complex information quickly. And sometimes they are not, for example when we make a decision based on incomplete data or we make an inaccurate assumption about someone or something.
What is the impact of bias?
Actions and decisions that are taken in an illogical or irrational way can have far-reaching consequences. They can result in people being overlooked, bullied, harassed, and discriminated against. They can create exclusion.
What can I do to #BreakTheBias?
As always, IWD is a call to action. But sometimes it is hard to know where to start. It is tempting to say that ‘organisations’ or ‘leaders’ need to do something, and to step away from the problem.
So, we have selected three, easy, tangible actions that each of us can do, individually, to address bias.
1. Broaden your personal frame of reference
Do you always get your news and views from the same place? Do you read, watch and listen to the same things as all your friends and family. This week, try something new. Read a different news source, perhaps one that supports a political view that you find difficult to support. Listen to a podcast that is aimed at a community to which you do not belong. Watch a film about a culture or historical event that you know nothing about.
By consciously challenging yourself to learn more about the world like this, you are challenging your own biases and broadening your understanding of the world.
2. Modify your environment
Take a look around you. What messages are you receiving about who succeeds or who belongs? Is your office accessible for all who might wish to visit? Does the art on the walls represent many different cultures?
We recently spoke with a gentleman who had replaced the pictures in his office with art that represented his Muslim faith. That simple move had created many conversations with colleagues and clients about his culture and beliefs.
Even if you work from home, ask yourself what you could change that would create a subtle reminder to be more inclusive every day.
3. Speak Up
What do you do when you notice bias in action? What do you say when the only woman in the room is asked to take notes? Or your gay friend is asked about his wife? When your black colleague’s point is ignored until it is made again by someone else?
All too often we say nothing, because in the moment it is hard to know what to say, and before we have decided, the moment has passed and it feels too awkward to raise it.
Choose a phrase that feels natural to you, and that you can use to highlight bias when you notice it. It might be as simple as “ouch” or “hang on”. It could be a question: “did you mean to…?” or “do you realise that you’ve…?”. Whatever it is, make it something that you could and would say. And practice saying it. So that it rolls off your tongue when you need it.
Only action will #BreakTheBias
There are many more ways in which we can each, individually, #BreakTheBias. We’ve chosen three that feel realistic and likely to create ripples for people around you.
What more would you add?