Rewiring the world to #BreakTheBias
- Posted on March 23, 2022
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
In the weeks following International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on the patchy progress of gender equality. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that my 7-year-old daughter doesn’t have any perception that what I do for a living is unusual. To her, technology is not a male-dominated industry, but is a cool job to have (although I need to be clear to differentiate it from online gaming)!
On the other hand, there’s a lot more that organisations in the public and private sectors must now do to drive further change and progress. These range in difficulty and investment to achieve outcomes. For example, implementing fundamental policies that are more inclusive; increasing focus on managing unconscious bias and behavioural change; establishing partnerships and initiatives to encourage, and enable, underrepresented groups to access education and career opportunities in industries such as technology etc.
I believe, in the same way that we previously (inadvertently) embedded bias in so many of our physical and digital systems, we now have the opportunity to intentionally program diversity and equality into our future, using three levers:
Get hybrid work right – As the pandemic has well and truly proved, productivity and inclusion increase when people are allowed to choose when, where and how they work. Flexibility allows employees to better balance work and personal/home life needs, while creating better access to opportunities for a more diverse pool of talent, such as those of us who have caring responsibilities. But we must be mindful that remote work has its own challenges as well:
- Boundaries – There’s a real danger that caring and domestic responsibilities will fall harder on those who choose to work from home – and employees will succumb to pressure to be ‘always on’ in a digital world. Business leaders need to have deep conversations with their teams, people managers, clients and industry leaders to instil the importance of setting and respecting boundaries. It’s also vital that every people manager models appropriate behaviour by setting their own boundaries and supporting their teams to do the same. My colleagues know and respect that I switch off my devices while I have dinner with my kids. And I expect all of them to set their own boundaries, ring-fencing the private moments they value.
- Belonging – We must ensure that our employees, especially new joiners, have the human connections that support belonging. Getting the balance right between remote work and the connections required to forge strong professional relationships will be key to acquiring, developing and retaining talent. This isn’t just about getting people together at the office – although that will be part of it – it’s also about increasing and prioritising personal catch ups, mentoring and celebrations, in a way that works for all.
Zero-tolerance for non-inclusive behaviour – Organisations must continue to focus on creating more diverse workforces and inclusive behaviours that will extend into our broader society. In addition to mandatory and continuous unconscious bias training, we need to ensure all leaders are modelling inclusive behaviours – and call out those who fall back into bias-shaped habits.
To succeed in this endeavour, we must look at all aspects of diversity. While driving gender diversity, it’s just as important to provide opportunity and safety to men, and to make reskilling and older workers feel just as welcome as graduates.
Harness the multiplier effect – Change cannot be achieved in isolation. We need ongoing industry collaboration to unpick the bias woven into the material of our culture. At my first meeting as a member of the TechDiversity Advisory Board, I was struck by the power of organisations sharing best practices to drive inclusion. We need more industry alliances committed to amplifying diversity awareness and achieving a culture of inclusion through conversation, collaboration and action.
On a final note, I’m also excited by the potential of the metaverse (a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users). By creating a workspace where people can decide how they look, sound and engage, the metaverse is a consciously more equitable universe. I predict we will see the rise of gender-neutral avatars, so identity becomes entirely focused on a person’s ideas, work and thinking – not their gender, age, race, ability or background. The metaverse could be the ultimate level playing field - allowing diverse individuals to shine completely on their own merits in a world without the bias that continues to hold back some of our brightest stars.