Imagine you’re a new parent. You spend the better part of the first six to 12 months of your new baby’s life tending to their every need. Your parental leave allows you to focus on some of the most critical moments of your child’s development. You know you’re making an impact.
Now imagine these two scenarios when you return to work.
Scenario 1: Your leadership gathers to discuss which tasks you will be responsible for. One manager suggests “taking it easy on you to not overwhelm you.” Another manager agrees and says “the priority isn’t work anymore.” You’re destined for menial work because your bosses decided that you can’t handle the important tasks.
Scenario 2: You return to work during the pandemic, meaning you’re actually working from home. Your city is in lockdown and your other child’s school is closed. You and your spouse alternate between work and child care, but that means you will have many hours and even days where you may not be able to check email. Weeks later, your boss confronts you demanding that you pick up the pace. You’re destined for a sub-par performance review.
Two brave women shared these stories with me this week and my first reaction was sadness. Although I’m not a parent yet, I was deeply troubled by the lack of empathy displayed by these women’s managers. This is what is known as Unconscious Bias.
Builtin.com defines Unconscious Bias as “the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how they understand and engage with a person or group.” It is a common workplace reality as people tend to lean towards what they believe to be true, which can have lasting and potentially devastating impacts on people they work with. The scenarios I shared fall under Attribution Bias, where “humans are quick to judge and falsely assume things about a person without knowing their full story.”
Steps to Bust Biases
The Builtin.com article points to many useful tactics to avoid biases in hiring and in people management, but I’d like to add a few more.
#1: Lead with Empathy: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes before rushing to judgment. Try and feel how they feel. If the manager in the second scenario I shared empathized with their direct report’s reality, this woman wouldn’t currently be looking at different roles within their organization. People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.
#2: Culture Add > Culture Fit: Embrace how different perspectives can add value to your team or organization. If you continue to hire and reward people who fit your organization’s pre-existing mold, you put your growth at risk. Quoting Forbes.com: “The thing that allows a group of people to come up with better ideas and solve problems in ways that no individual member could on their own is precisely the group’s different ways of thinking—its cognitive diversity.”
#3: Don’t Assume: The old cliche that people who assume make an ASS out of U and ME is still applicable. Defer judging people until you fully understand the root cause of the problem.
Finally, educate yourself. Embrace difference. Embrace change.
And most importantly, embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
No one can assume what another is feeling. Being empathetic helps understand what another person is going through and when you feel understood, performance will increase. We need more empathy now more than ever!