It’s International Women’s Day and this year’s theme challenges each of us to do our part to create a world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Companies are doing their part to limit bias at work. They are establishing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion departments and funding their programming. They are investing in technologies to ensure its people-related systems (i.e., recruiting practices, promotion decisions) break down bias.
Yet, even with these guardrails in place, bias continues to leak through. That’s because companies are run by people. And, people are bias. Sometimes this bias is front and centre, and hard to ignore. Most other times, however, it’s unconscious and can show up in small, seemingly inconsequential ways.
Micro-aggressions at work
Called micro-aggressions, these small acts may not fully be hostile. Yet, the message they send is clear to the recipient and others within earshot: something about the person (maybe you) is different. Or, more simply, they don’t belong here.
Micro-aggressions are fairly common in the workplace. A Deloitte survey found 64% of respondents had experienced or witnessed bias at work. When micro-aggressions go unchecked, affected individuals and their colleagues feel disconnected to their manager, team and company. They’re less productive, and as morale dips, their performance is limited. Attrition also rises.
Everyone – at every level of the organization – can help unravel micro-aggressions and other forms of bias at work. This can be done with what a research team out of Columbia University calls micro-interventions. These are small, yet powerful actions that can disrupt bias in the moment while helping others grow beyond their biases.
Communication strategies to interrupt bias
There are several communication-based practices that can be used in your workplace – be it virtual or in-person.
- Make the invisible visible: To interrupt bias, you have to be able to spot it. The first step, then, is to take the time to understand the many ways bias manifests.
- Set the expectation: Anyone can be a model for their colleagues. Use the words and actions to demonstrate what is acceptable and what is not.
- Call out bias: It may not be easy to do, but necessary nonetheless. There’s an art to calling out bias that can be expressed verbally or with body language cues.
You can call out bias using the suggested scripts in our new communications guide: Interrupt Bias: What to say at work.
This practical, easy-to-use communication tool also outlines the strategies you can use to lead difficult conversations that can Break the Bias wherever you are.