For most of my career I was part of the problem. Since gender bias had never directly impacted me in the STEM industry, I downplayed the topic altogether. I naively held this view until I became the target myself and suddenly the shock, disappointment, shame, helplessness and overt embarrassment of it all nearly defeated me.
I had built such a strong, seemingly impenetrable wall of effectiveness and confidence around myself that, when the behavior was introduced to me on behalf of a male colleague, a strong ally I didn’t even know I needed, I was immediately suspect. My colleague had been reprimanded for relinquishing “his power” by inviting me into a business conversation. A business conversation on a topic where, unlike others, I held routine, respected and recent proven experience. Whether disguised as leadership or mentorship, that conversation sought to demurely instill bias and keep the cycle alive. Male supervisor to male direct report. Do not give your power to her. Behaviors continued, difficult decisions were made, my family and I are on the other side and the sordid details are a story for another day, in a different medium. But having been through that dark place, I hope to lessen that experience for others.
You too can help. Here are four simple ways you can help eradicate gender bias in STEM and in the workplace:
- We need your self-awareness. Real talk: I fear some male readers stopped reading at the article title. When I bring up gender bias, at times the oxygen changes in the room – defensiveness, invisible hackles raised, an eye-roll signifying well she’s a problem. It’s important for men to believe that when women speak about our experiences with gender bias that we aren’t speaking of all men in all workplaces. Quite the opposite. Men represent roughly 70% of senior leadership positions across numerous regions; therefore, men are ideally positioned to take leading roles in stamping out bias.
- We need your voice. We need men to speak up in the face of bias against females in the workplace and, furthermore, recognize that their closest work buddy might very well be the bad apple. Biased individuals seek out scrupulous and honorable peers in order to blend in. They know it’s not socially acceptable to target women based on their gender. They know to sprinkle their environment with females; manageable, non-threatening women. Biased men know. It’s also awkward when they slip up and, for a brief moment, you think, “Surely I heard that wrong?”
- We need your attention. If it sounded biased, it probably was. Typically it takes more effort to seek clarity on bias from others and we need that from our male counterparts. However, digging in to help is far less taxing than the effort many women must exert to simply meet expectations in the face of persistent headwinds, cleverly concealing supervisory bias. Men are not smarter than women. There are not more men than women in the workplace. There are not more educated men than women in our nation. Most of us know all of this. We are equals. And maybe just maybe, the inarguable presence of less women leading and advancing in the workplace is based on bias rather than a lack of ability, drive or presence. We need you to see us and, as appropriate, stand with us and stand up for us.
- We need your support. Not unlike an unattended backpack on the subway, if you see something, say something. If you hear, “She has no focus. She’s all over the place!” and then you hear, “He is so strong! Ruthlessly tackling all issues at such a rapid clip.” Ask the questions. Notice the incongruity. The deeply southern female apologist in me needs to add that the conversation on gender bias in the workplace is not about women being given anything unearned. It’s not about women being better than men. It’s about equity in opportunities, promotions and decision-making. And given that men hold the lion’s share of power in our workforce today across numerous regions, you are in the strongest position to support us.
The words in this writing won’t fix biased individuals. Today I’m trying to reach the silent majority; those that don’t speak up and drive action when they see the lack of diversity surrounding them.
Women in the workforce and in leadership bring diverse perspectives and competing ideas that generate value, influence growth and increase profits. If you aren’t sure how to pivot from complacent to supportive, if you question whether what you are doing is helpful or enough, just ask. I don’t have all the answers, no one does; but every time dialogue starts, bias loses a fraction of power. Together we make the difference.
Originally posted on Forbes.com, June 14, 2020: https://www.forbes.com/sites/paigefrancis/2020/06/14/four-simple-things-that-women-in-the-workplace-need-from-you/?sh=7eebbc193bd6