Avoiding bias in how you promote & see talent
According to Grant Thornton the percentage of female CEOs and managing directors rose from 15% in 2019 to 26% in 2021. 1 In light of International Women’s Day, I wanted to take a minute to celebrate how far we’ve come, and, also to recognise how far we need to go considering that nearly 50% of the world’s population is female. A number of studies and publications show the benefits of having females in the board room – and I would argue we could look at diversity in even broader strokes here – and what I find is that most leaders hands down agree that they want to embrace a more diverse workforce and leadership team. So, why do we fall short?
The most common issue is bias that exists in our organisational systems, our personal unconscious biases, and even in our team dynamics. So how can you avoid this and recognise the plethora of talent right in front of you? Here are three simple tips and tricks that you can start today. Though, I acknowledge this is just the icing on the cake!
- Consciously define leadership for yourself and your organisation. This means going beyond the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Quite often leadership criteria in organisations is based on the things that are externally seen and most easily measured. For example, someone who is very vocal is more likely to be seen as a leader than someone who is quieter as referenced in this 2020 study on the “babble effect.”2 Is someone who talks more a better leader? I would encourage you as an organisation to explore your values and invite your employees into the conversation on how effectively you and your leaders live them, as well as to identify what’s missing. In this process, broaden your definition of leadership and recognise leaders come in all shapes and forms. Tying leadership to your organisational values vs. traditional criteria can open up doors. Consciously defining leadership can help your organisation measure what criteria you are actually promoting and start to notice biases both in your identified criteria and in your performance. Awareness is a great first step. And, the great thing about this is you can look at the impact of this beyond just women and explore multiple angles of diversity.
- Embrace your bias as a person. One of my favourite books is Blindpsot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. What I love about this is it acknowledges that we all have biases. I had the pleasure of being in a workshop with Dr. Banaji years ago where she talked about her work with a CEO who could only hear tall people. It sounds crazy but a number of the CEO’s shorter employees stated that often times they would say something that would go unnoticed, only to have a tall person next to them repeat the same idea and have it heard. With third party observation, it was noticed to actually be true. By knowing this, the CEO was able to proactively change his behaviour and design systems around his meetings that ensured he heard all people – not just the tallest people in the room. For many of us when we hear we are doing something “wrong,” it can be easy get defensive and dismiss it. What if you went the other way and assumed it was true? What would you do differently? What could you design in your systems or your ways of working to ensure you were addressing it?
- Make space for others to shine. One of the most important things you can do a leader within an organisation at ANY level, is to let your people shine. It can be easy, particularly when trying to climb the ladder in your early leadership career to want to show how fluidly and easily YOU got things done so you continue moving up. This is very often a mistake for a number of reasons but one of the biggest is you close off opportunities for the people working for you and with you to showcase their leadership qualities. How can you create opportunities to allow your team to to be seen for what they are contributing to the organisation and the team? And how can you think purely beyond the numbers? Speaking first hand from my own experience, I so often see us underplay the people that are the quiet collaborators that often are they key to getting things done. On one of my global teams, I had someone I had secretly coined the “the whisperer.” I found that when the team was nervous about taking on a challenge and wanted to say “no” that the “the whisperer” often had a way of calming people in a quiet way that allowed them to step up to the bigger challenge. I made sure “the whisperer” was mentioned not only in our final success story but throughout the project as I gave updates on the challenges we were overcoming – and even had “the whisperer” present to management where possible to give them a voice. I wanted this important contribution to be noticed. Imagine what a team can do that feels safe and dares to be challenged! Now, that’s a leader!
The lasts few years in particular have ignited an exploratory look at how we work – and I’m optimistic at how opening that door will not only increase our satisfaction with our work and performance as companies, but also in how it can invite us to open new doors for people that look different, sound different, and just are different. We have an opportunity to accelerate our learning and redefine what leadership is, what it looks like, and who we want to follow. May you be the leader your employees deserve and the organisation that succeeds because of the diverse talents and views you have been given the privilege of seeing grow and letting lead you.
If you as a leader, team, or organisation need help tackling these topics, do not hesitate to contact Livthentic for an exploratory discussion or schedule directly on calendly. We see a world where leadership isn’t defined by gender, shape, size, colour, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. We see your individual spark and want to help you grow it into a flame. You can also join our mailing list to be stay in touch or follow us on Linkedin, Facebook, or Instagram.
- Women in business 2021: A window of opportunity. (2021). Grant Thornton
- Testing the Babble Hypothesis: Speaking Time Predicts Leadership Emergence in Small Groups. (2020). MacLaren, Neil et al. Elsevier. Volume 31, Issue 5.