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How to Navigate Bias and Own your Personal Narrative

One key issue that we try to overcome as part of our mission at EWOB is bias, and it starts with unearthing what it really is. After doing so, it becomes possible to navigate ways of overcoming it and owning your personal narrative.

That is why last week’s event, EWOB Talks: How to Navigate Bias and Own Your Personal Narrative, by EWOB CEO & Board Member Kristen Anderson and Diversity, Inclusion & Talent Strategist and EWOB Member Kalpana Bagamane, carried so much importance to us. We need to have this discussion if we want to see more women, more diversity and intersectionality in leadership positions.

Missed the event? No worries – you can watch the recording here!

Discussing How to Navigate Bias and Own your Personal Narrative

Kristen started the event with a striking piece of information: Bias is the top reason why people leave organisations. Even though some progress has been made, there is still so much to do in terms of fighting systemic bias. When Kalpana asked our attendees “Have you experiencing bias?” and started a poll, 78% of all attendees said they did.

Kalpana then asked where they experienced bias the most. The answers were in pay level, access to broader opportunities, career progression opportunities, access to boards, development opportunities… And many more areas, all of which many of us unfortunately found relatable.

The existence of various types of biases in the workplace

Kalpana asked Kristen how she saw bias manifested in a work environment, to which Kristen answered, “unconscious non-respectable behaviors”. Women are more interrupted in the workplace, by both men and women. Unpaid labor, women’s voices being heard less, and women being asked to take on organisational tasks within the team (such as setting up birthday celebrations), are also among these unconscious acts.

Affinity bias also plays a role, which is basically having a bias towards someone that reminds you of yourself. An example Kristen gave here was of two people being friendly in the workplace due to their similarities, having talks by the water cooler, but then one of them automatically choosing the other for a project based on that friendliness, without really thinking of other potential candidates.

Another bias that also comes often is paternal/maternal bias. This means thinking and deciding for someone, believing it comes from a place of good intentions, when it actually results in making a major decision for that person, which is unwanted. There are also microaggressions. 64% of women face them, and it is exponentially higher for women of color. A new one, proximity bias, is feeling an affinity to people you see in the office, which is challenging for the hybrid/remote culture the world is currently moving to.

How to tackle bias in the workplace

Kristen then asked Kalpana what can be done to eliminate bias from the workplace. Kalpana said that it is important to focus not on fixing people, but on fixing the system. But there is a reality: Changing a culture takes on average 3-5 years. This type of culture change includes trying to change the personal behavior of people, and since biases come from our lived experiences, undoing those can be very challenging. How people hire & recruit, for instance, is incredibly biased. How do we, then, as women, navigate these organisations?

Most organisations weren’t designed with women in mind. The progression of women in an organisation usually depends on two things: how they are perceived and who they know. Women network differently than men, and more biases and stereotypes exist for women than for the people in majority.

To take ownership of your narrative

This is why we need to take back and own our narrative and to use our voice.Instead of waiting for the organisation’s culture to catch up & wait for people to notice our results, we need to be comfortable with amplifying our results. Kalpana here suggested to keep a running list of achievements, in a Word document, take 15 minutes every week to reflect on your week and then write what you have achieved. She also mentioned how she would forward all the positive feedback she receives to her supervisor. It’s indeed important for them to hear other voices in the organisation to see that you are making an impact.

Kalpana also offered another suggestion, which she does in her business day-to-day. To send out a quarterly check-in meeting to your line manager, even if they have not asked for it, and going through your achievements that benefited the company in the past quarter. She emphasises: “We cannot wait for them to ask.”

And have your voice heard

Another challenge Kalpana mentioned was the inability to have our voice heard. To overcome this, Kalpana suggests going and asking clearly, “Can I be put on the agenda?”. It is also important to offer your input, either in a group setting or one-on-one via email or directly. To navigate bias and own your personal narrative is about making sure people see your perspective and not letting anyone mistake your silence for not having an opinion. It’s important that we figure out ways to have our voice heard.

This might also look like making your career aspirations known to the decision-makers in your company. Do they know where you want to move up in the career ladder, and when? Have you shared your plans with the decision-makers even if you were not explicitly asked to? Yes, the organisation should be coming to you: But if they are not, we must be taking ownership of the narrative.

We thank Kristen & Kalpana for this inspiring talk and our wonderful chat moderators Henrike Wilkens & Christine George for volunteering!

Make sure to watch the full event here!