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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Willey

Breaking the Bias and Building a Gender Equal World

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day on March 8th is #BreaktheBias. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to advance. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough; we need to take collective action to level the playing field.

Are you in? Will you call out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping every time you see it? Cross your arms to show solidarity. Strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias image, video or point of view on social media. Tag #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to help create a more inclusive world that celebrates and values our differences.

Bias is Multi-Faceted

In order to #BreaktheBias, we must first understand bias across its different dimensions:

1. The Biases We Believe About Ourselves

These may be related to stories you’ve been told throughout your life. For example, when I was a young girl, my mother taught me that “a Tishman can do anything,” and that someday “I would be president of the world“ (in today’s current climate, that fictitious job is certainly not one I want). These simple mantras made me believe that anything was possible.

As I matured and began paving my professional path, I would often consult my mother when I encountered career challenges. While she always meant well, her own lifelong biases would inevitably cloud her counsel. When I was unhappy and stressed at one particular job, she suggested I quit my IT management role and open a dancing school. Never mind that my last dance class was two decades ago and I wasn’t that talented of a dancer to begin with. She didn’t advise me how to overcome career roadblocks so I might become CEO one day—instead, her advice was to return to the familiar and easy, informed by the gender stereotypes of what young women should pursue. As a result, I didn’t dig in and grow out of my comfort zone; I simply abandoned the role. I believed my own biases that I wasn’t “cut out” for that kind of work.

Perhaps you have had a similar journey…maybe you wanted to become an entrepreneur and develop a product to positively impact lives, but that’s not what moms/women/aspiring princesses do (although I am a Disney fan, too many classics perpetuate the myth that women are voiceless damsels in distress. If you're looking instead to cheer on powerful female protagonists, check out this Disney content).

Don’t keep that brilliant idea or invention to yourself because you fear judgment or failure.

Don’t limit yourself—manifest the destiny you want.

2. The Bias We Believe About Our Colleagues

People leaders must often assign a “stretch” project to a direct report and decide whether a man or woman will own the additional work. Many unwittingly harbor biases that leave women on the losing end. Here’s a typical example of what

happens. A devoted, overachieving mom shares with her boss that she has been overwhelmed trying to crush her goals and manage everything at home. This positive moment of vulnerability can later negatively impact her chance to earn a future promotion when her empathetic manager gives the project to her male colleague (also a working parent) who never exposed his own anxieties. The concerned manager had the best intentions to “save” the female professional from late night/weekend work that would add more to her plate, but during annual performance reviews, she will be left behind. Be aware of your own unconscious biases around what your direct reports can or cannot handle. If you believe a female team leader can shine on a project, talk to her about her capacity first. Let it be her choice, not yours; coach her how to prioritize tasks and find ways to delegate less critical activities to others.

3. Our General Biases About Women and Men

My husband transitioned from TV news videographer to full-time parent when our youngest son was two years old. He was the first “stay-at-home dad” we knew.

We decided this was the best option for our family because my corporate job enabled us to pay the bills and save for college. We both encountered outright bias—family members asking him why “he can’t be a man and get a job,” even though he chose to leave the profession he loved to keep our family intact. Comments like these typically came from men with a stay-at-home female spouse. A former colleague once asked me at a work conference if “my husband ever felt like less of a man in bed with me” because I was the sole breadwinner—a question he posed in front of other company executives! What's more, my husband was often considered “an angel” for doing the laundry, making dinner, grocery shopping, and helping with homework. Although women typically handle all of these critical tasks and work full time, I can’t recall hearing similar praise for their contributions. We hold women to higher standards than men on the home front, even when women equally contribute to family finances. This cartoon brings the concept to life beautifully (and sadly).

"Enough is Enough is Enough"

As the goddesses Babs and Donna Summer belted out, “I've had it, we've had it, you've had it, he's had it. No more tears. Enough, is enough, is enough.”

Let’s #BreakTheBias that men are heroes when they stand up for others, and women are bossy or “should mind their own business.”

Let’s #BreakTheBias that men who help out at home are heroes, while women are failing or “barely holding it together” at home and at work.

Let’s #BreakTheBias that we are failures--not successful enough, thin enough, young enough, old enough, joyful enough, rich enough or good enough.

It’s time we start seeing people for exactly what they are: human beings who are trying to do their best. Be at peace with the present and bring awareness, empathy and passion to everything you do. Stop judging each other because you have no idea what “their” life is like until you walk in their shoes.

On the eve of International Women’s Day 2022, let’s break all of these damaging, limiting biases, and breakthrough to acceptance and inclusion on the other side.

More Ways to #BreaktheBias

Make an Impact within Your Company: Plan an activity with inspiring and helpful tools from the official IWD 2022 site.

Get Help: If you are a female entrepreneur, check out Meta’s new support resources.

Support Women-owned Businesses: Find amazing products here.

What are YOU doing to #BreaktheBias? Please share your story to inspire and empower others!

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