By Mitra Best – I am proud to be a female technologist, but the fact I am a woman should be irrelevant. Most of us want to be recognized for our capabilities and contributions, not our gender. Yet as women, there are constructs we must navigate on a daily basis before we’re allowed to make a difference.
“I don’t know how you survive each day.” My husband shared his disbelief after a day of deliberately listening for signs of unconscious bias toward women in his work environment. I had given him examples of words and phrases that stereotype women. By the end of that day, he was examining his own biases from this eye opening experiment.
When and where does it begin?
I started college as an idealist — studying physics to quench my fascination with life beyond Earth. My goal was to build space habitats that extended our footprint in the universe. Once I realized my extraterrestrial ambition was unfortunately a longer term goal, I switched my major to computer science with an emphasis on artificial intelligence where I was convinced I could actually create more immediate change. While I often mused about being the only female in many of my engineering classes, I never felt a disadvantage nor was I viewed differently. I didn’t experience gender bias until I entered the corporate world.
Why is that?
Throughout my career I’ve worked successfully with men and women, both as clients and colleagues. I’ve come to realize many men don’t even recognize their own biases toward women in the workplace. These unconscious shortcuts or assumptions we use to organize the world into social categories are frequently even incompatible with our own conscious values.
Societal power structures and cultural norms were built by and for men. For example, success is often equated with power and financial gain at work. But this construct is biased against those who seek intrinsic fulfillment over building an empire.
How do we fix this?
Don’t just talk to women about gender bias, talk to men: We keep preaching to the choir when we only talk to women about battling unconscious gender biases in the workplace. At PwC we’ve made a bold commitment for 80,000 PwC men to engage as advocates of global gender equality as part of HeForShe in the next year. It will take all of us working together… and talking together… to create a more equitable environment.
Is your measure of success achievable at your workplace? With increased diversity, organizations need to address success more broadly, which naturally will be more inclusive of women. If your organization is wearing blinders, it will be difficult to succeed. At PwC, we have several programs to address success: Be well, work well (a mindfulness campaign focused on our energy management) and Blindspots (required unconscious bias training).
Mentor someone who is not like you: Mentorship is critical as we address unconscious bias in the workplace. Generally, we tend to mentor people who are similar to us – those we believe will benefit from our learnings and mistakes. The real work is mentoring or being mentored by someone who is completely different, allowing both of you to stretch and grow. I’ve always believed innovation and new thinking come at the nexus of diverse perspectives. If every man mentored a woman and vice versa, we would begin to see substantial progress toward equality amongst colleagues.
We’ve come a long way in addressing diversity and bias in the workplace. By adding “inclusion,” we take it to the next level. It’s not enough to hire women or minorities if we are not going to include them as part of our teams. It is more than a numbers game.
I’m convinced the next evolution needs to emerge from true “equity”– not perceived or forced, but rooted in our respect of others and the contributions they make. We should triangulate on the pursuit of “diversity, inclusion & equity” in our relentless progression. I may not have built Utopia in deep space, but I believe we can build a better world right here in our organizations and communities.
About The Author
Mitra M. Best is an entrepreneur, technologist, and innovation leader. As Principal in PwC New Ventures, she identifies and incubates technology-enabled businesses aligned with solving critical challenges faced by organizations, the ecosystem of stakeholders, and the workforce. To learn more about some of the actions that PwC is taking to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, please visit them here.