Before you can begin to advocate for your colleagues, it’s important you understand the difference between equality and equity; the two are often confused and the impact of each very different.
Equality means that every individual is given the same resources and opportunities, equity recognises that each person has different needs and circumstances and so people need to be provided with the right support and tools to help them achieve and succeed. In a work context this applies to development and promotion opportunities, hiring practices, compensation and rewards, for example.
Being a culpable colleague in a culture of equity and inclusion, means that you need to not only educate yourself on how you can support equitable practices but also address your own unconscious bias in order to be a supportive advocate for your peers. Research from Mckinsey found that employees who experience inclusive behaviours from their team mates, in the form of support, empowerment and mutual respect, are more likely to feel included at work, regardless of whether an organisation has a formal inclusion strategy.
What is unconscious bias and how can you overcome it?
The first thing to recognise is that in one form or another we may all be guilty of unconscious bias. We all have and form behaviours and opinions about people that we don’t necessarily know we have, generally created from the multitude of stereotypes that society and the media create. These seemingly harmless stereotypes, such as, ‘woman are good caretakers’ can become problematic when we associate individuals with them - this is unconscious bias. It is not uncommon for instances of stereotyping that may seem ‘small’ to cause a great deal of harm. When perceptions translate into behaviour and communication this creates ‘microaggressions’, which are verbal, behavioural or environmental slights that create negative and derogatory attitudes. Research shows that repeated exposure to microaggressions can result in stress-related and psychological issues. The great resignation of 2021 made employers pay close attention to how an orgnisation’s culture can influence whether an employee wants to leave. According to Business Hardvard Review, “one study found that 7 in 10 workers would be upset by a microagression, and half said the action would make them consider leaving their job (Harvard Business Review: Recognising and responding to microaggressions at work).
So what can you do to try and overcome any bias?
You may consider:
Confronting any bias you may think or believe in – Being upfront and understanding your bias is the first step.
Consider the use of gender bias language – According to a report conducted by Samsung Newsroom UK, “the average worker use gender bias language more than 4 times in their working week” (Gender Bias in the workplace: Samsung Newsroom UK). The use of gender bias language is often so ingrained we don’t realise we’re using it. For example the use of ‘guys’ when referring to a mixed team of people, or referring to the length of time a job has taken as ‘man hours’. Whilst many of these phrases are likely used without negative intent, it is instances like this that can reinforce gender bias in the workplace. As a colleague you can take responsibility to ensure you use inclusive language and references that seek to ensure your peers are comfortable and don’t feel marginalized.
Take the Implicit Association Test – This is a set of questions that examine bias towards certain aspects like gender, ethnicity, religion etc. This can be used as a starting point to think about and understand your bias.
Complete unconscious bias training – There may be an opportunity to complete unconscious bias training via your employer, which will help you understand the topic in more detail and how you can manage implicit biases and support your colleagues effectively.
Make equity your business
Are you aware of what your employer may be doing to challenge gender bias and inequity in your organisation? Research shows that one in five UK employees are not aware of what action, support, and opportunities are being put in place to drive a culture of equity. (Gender Bias in the workplace: Samsung Newsroom, UK).
If you’re not aware of what support channels and policies are in place in your workplace then it’s worth talking to your employer about this, to ensure you feel supported and understand how you can personally reinforce equity for your teams and colleagues. We all have a responsibility to understand how our actions and behaviours can impact others, as well as calling out gender bias when it makes sense to do so.
Understanding equity and your unconscious bias is the first step to becoming an equity advocate.
For more information and guidance on diversity, inclusion and equity take a look at our other advisory articles:
At IDEX Consulting we strongly believe and value equitable practices, here’s what equity means to us, watch our short video.