Rethink your approach to removing gender-bias through small shifts in the workplace

4 MARCH 2024

Rethink your approach to removing gender-bias through small shifts in the workplace

Ahead of International Women’s Day in 2024 on Friday 8 March, we’re being encouraged to imagine a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, where difference is valued and celebrated.

Professor of Practice in Behavioural Science at Charles Sturt University’s Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Futures Institute Dr Juliette Tobias-Webb explains how small workplace changes can help forge a gender-equal and inclusive society.

Are you tired of the same old approaches to diversity and inclusion? I offer solutions that work.

Regardless of gender, we’ve all felt what it feels like to be excluded – and it doesn’t feel great. If you’ve been left out of a WhatsApp group, a workplace dinner, or even a promotion – it sucks.

Bias is everywhere

Similarly, we all experience bias. Bias is embedded in our everyday thoughts, actions, workplaces and technology. You'll be shocked to discover how even the most mundane things in our lives, like the size of our smartphones, our seatbelts or the temperature of our office, are influenced by unconscious bias. Even technology is influenced by bias, with Facebook recently implementing (and then removing) algorithms that called black men primates.

We must address the systemic and implicit biases that too often impact our workplace relations and outcomes, but the interventions commonly offered, such as debias training (the reduction of bias), don’t reliably shift behaviour.

We don’t need to teach people to think differently

After debias training, people often express more awareness of the concept of bias and a greater willingness to try to manage it (i.e. their attitudes shift). Yet, their actions and decisions don’t reliably change. Behaviour stays the same or can even get worse because people can become overconfident in their decisions – ‘I’ve gone on debias training so I must be less biased’ - and don’t keep themselves accountable. Teaching people to think differently doesn’t work.

Change the Physical Environment – choice architecture.

To achieve inclusion, it is clear we need to rethink our approach. There are actions we can take to shift the environment through what is called ‘choice architecture’ and therefore be a catalyst for positive and inclusive culture.

I often say information, motivation and mindset are the essence of intention. However, small environmental shifts catalyse change through shifting choices and behaviour, closing what we call the ‘intention-action gap’.

For instance, we might want to eat healthier (motivation), we know how to do it (education), and feel capable of making the changes (mindset), but it is only when we leave the chocolate at the shops that many of us change our diet (environment).

In doing so, we can help action this year’s theme for International Women’s Day – ‘Inspire Inclusion’ – on Friday 8 March.

How to forge ahead

One thing I always encourage is looking at the small shifts you can make in the environment which can catalyse connection and transform changes in behaviour.

The focus needs to be shifted from changing individuals’ behaviours or mindsets, which can be difficult to do at a large scale, to changing the overall environment.

While there are many that can be listed, some simple changes in choice architecture can include:

  • Consider the portraits on the walls and make them diverse and representative of your workplace and customer base. These seemingly small things can signal inclusion or a lack thereof
  • Explore removing demographic information from hiring decisions (blinding) to prevent biased decision-making early or introduce task-based recruitment so that participants are evaluated for the outcome of their world
  • Use technology to help you ensure that equal turn-taking is happening in the team, such as platforms like Vowel. Equal turn-taking is a sign of psychological safety and high-performing teams
  • Set time aside in your dairy to reflect and use data to challenge your biases and to challenge the technology coming in. Are you spending an equal amount of time responding to all employees? Does the data make sense in terms of equal outcomes?

Interestingly, there is a psychological concept called social norms where, as an individual, we often follow the herd. So, by changing an environment to encourage people to improve on their own, everyone else is likely to follow and the positive trend in group behaviour begins to form.

At the end of the day, we are all human, and thus, much more similar than different.

I encourage everyone to start with a little bit of curiosity about what they could do differently to consider others, and what they could shift in their environment to catalyse change when there are recurring people problems like gender bias.

ENDS


Media Note:

To arrange an interview with Dr Juliette Tobias-Webb, contact Jessica McLaughlin at Charles Sturt Media on 0430 510 538 or via news@csu.edu.au

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