Amidst the unprecedented circumstances that surround us, it’s tempting to say everything has changed. But the awkward truth is that some aspects of our daily lives remain just as present as ever and become magnified under a pandemic. Particularly when those things are deeply ingrained and difficult to spot, like unconscious bias.
Last year as a firm, Prophet developed a gender-based Unconscious Bias training to help our employees better understand how to see, articulate, and address bias. As part of addressing the bias, one question comes up frequently:
How do I have what are often hard conversations with my teammates about gender-based bias if I observe them as we work together?
This isn’t an easy question to ask or answer. The truth of it is, we’re all facing the same difficulties, but experiencing them differently. And now, more than ever, remote teams need to be able to foster an open and honest dialogue.
What happened next was eye-opening. We had a lot of open, honest dialogues and found potential solutions that have worked for having hard conversations to help address gender-based unconscious bias.
We hope these enable all of us to get better at more openly addressing this issue together.
1. Act Swiftly.
While talking about bias is awkward, letting it go only makes it worse. Addressing what you experienced or witnessed promptly means that those involved still remember the particulars of what happened and keeps emotions from festering. This can mean as promptly as during the meeting (if the setting is appropriate), calling someone just after the meeting, or following up within a day or two.
2. Plan the Conversation.
Whether by taking a few minutes or a few days, taking just a bit of time to think through what you want to say can help you feel prepared. Asking yourself questions like:
- Who was impacted here?
- How might bias have affected their ability to get their job done or advance in their career? How did it affect whether they’re empowered to do their best work?
- Did others on the team observe the bias?
If so, it can be important and/or helpful to speak with them. First, this provides alternative views of the situation. And second, if you are a leader on the team, it reinforces that the bias didn’t go unnoticed and is being addressed.
- What do I think my audience’s response will be when I have this conversation?
- Would it be easier on you or more appropriate for the situation to have this conversation as a phone or Zoom call?
- Do I need to involve HR? Are there standard response models to specific bias that have proven successful?
The answers will help you more fully paint the picture of what the real impact is. And thinking through these questions generally provides confidence and clarity.
3. Seek Advice.
It sounds counterintuitive because our natural instinct is to keep these topics private. But talking to a trusted advisor about the conversation you plan to have—or even rehearsing it out loud—can really make a difference. Ask for thoughts on how you think you can be successful in the dialogue and use advisors as a way to reinforce your arguments or check your own assumptions. The more we talk about bias openly, the more we’ll be comfortable addressing it.
4. Clarify the Impact of the Bias.
Don’t assume your audience understands the effect of their actions. Articulate things like:
- Who the bias impacted. Whether it was you, other team members, or people who were made reference to, but weren’t present, give your audience a clear picture of who they impacted.
- How that impacted the work. Experiencing bias can have a profound impact on a person’s motivation, commitment and empowerment to share ideas. Give your audience a sense of the ripple effect bias can have.
By making the effects tangible, it can help to move bias out of what is often a grey area and into places we all already track, reference, and value.
5. Manage Your Own Expectations.
Don’t anticipate that you’ll walk away from the conversation with everything solved. It’s hard work to recognize bias—in others and in ourselves. It’s harder work still to change our behaviors and actions. It won’t happen in the space of one conversation. Sometimes these conversations can trigger an immediate lightbulb realization for folks. But the reaction can also be slower, something that takes time to settle in. Take heart that even if the conversation doesn’t have a tidy conclusion, you’ve very likely still made progress.
Most importantly, if someone comes to you with a concern about bias they witnessed or experienced, be open to really listening. Strongly resist the urge to judge, coach, or otherwise assess the approach or the intent of the feedback. Remember how hard it is to have these conversations and instead assume we are all making our best, most sincere effort to create a better, more inclusive workforce.
At Prophet, we’re working every day to advance inclusivity in our workplace. We believe that many voices and perspectives strengthen our work and the work of our clients. That being said, we know this list isn’t exhaustive. And we know we’re all adjusting to a new normal, where we can’t simply pull someone aside in the office for a quick in-person chat. We’d love for you to comment below and add additional tips, or you can reach out to us directly.