This is where the conversation gets hard. It’s not easy to define what unconscious bias is. Identifying it in yourself and others, especially coworkers or management, is even harder.
After nearly 13 years in software development, and still the only woman programmer on my team of 20 developers, I realized that nothing is going to change unless I change, unless I standup and standout, until I start the conversation.
The easiest place to start is to get everyone on the same page. Define it, and stick to the facts with some personal humor. Start with an open discussion between yourself and those close to you; spouse, parents, friends. I have to be comfortable talking about unconscious bias and my differences with those that I am close to before I have any chance of discussing it at work.
Early in 2018, I started a monthly women’s lunch at work where we could watch Lean In videos, study communication differences between men and women, learn about how men and women handle pressure differently, etc. It was a safe space for us to discuss these issues and how they affect us regularly.
One fact that stood out to several of us, is that women rarely sit at the table during a meeting. More often, they sit at the chairs on the outskirts of a room. So when a woman I work with saw me sitting on the outskirts of the room, she called me out on it after the meeting; she held me accountable. We had built up that relationship to where she knew she could bring it to my attention.
Building relationships with your coworkers will make it easier to have some of these harder discussions later on. Ask them how their weekends were. Sit with them at lunch and learn about their hobbies. Talk about some non-work stuff. Build friends and advocates at work.
In November, my manager gave me an opportunity to discuss life as a woman in tech at the “All Hands” (entire company) meeting. I had 10-15 minutes to present. It was terrifying; not because of presenting, but because of the topic I was presenting on. This would truly show my “otherness”. Diversity and feminism can be very sensitive issues to those on the other side. Despite my fear, I gave the presentation. I started the conversation. I defined the terms. I defined unconscious bias. Now, we could start to have the really hard conversations.
I’m not fully there yet, but now when I bring something up to my manager or a coworker he will know where I am coming from. I am not accusing or blaming. I make the same mistakes. I want to build awareness to foster change.
Nothing will change until we change, until we standup and standout, until we start the conversation.
To foster change –
- Define the terms and share your knowledge. Become comfortable discussing these issues in your safe, close community before talking with your larger community (work, school, etc.)
- Build relationships – know your coworkers at a more personal, less work, level.
- Increase awareness; behaviors won’t change unless someones knows why they need to change. Even then change is hard. Share your mistakes and flaws. Be open to others helping you. When something happens at work that bothers you (sometimes it takes me a day or two to really realize it’s bothering me) discuss it with your manager or the individual. Frame it with your shared knowledge of the issue.