Breaking the Bias (1)

TEAMERY: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY EVENT – BREAKING THE BIAS

By Kerrin Miller

It was a privilege to join the co-founders of Teamery on International Women’s Day to share our own stories on 2022’s very relevant topic of ‘Break the Bias’. This often focuses on building leaders and teams that shift from unconscious bias to becoming consciously inclusive. Building this muscle takes courage to get to know our own biases and build cognisance of our own blindspots. It is a process that takes collaboration and curiosity to get to know the world from other perspectives, and commitment to keep working on this and get better at tackling tough topics.  We often use the Deloitte’s ‘6 C framework’ as scaffolding for our work with teams because we believe it provides practical and behavioural ways to deepen team insight and then build new ways of working together. As each founder explores her story today, we invite you to explore and experiment with these behaviours – courage, cognisance, curiosity, collaboration and commitment  – and to reflect on how they might shift your ability to ‘break the bias’ as a team leader or team member.

My story today  – and a bias that I am passionate about breaking – is bias towards working mothers.  I have always wanted to be both a mother and have a career. Both my daughters and my work are essential parts of who I am. And I can’t imagine a life without either.  I have always been very open about having a family, the struggles of a dual career couple, the emotional load and exhaustion. I often find myself saying ‘the juggle is real’. Yet there is little doubt that there are biases evoked by being a working mom.  Colleagues and clients have voiced their concern at letting their leaders and teams know they are engaged, pregnant or even getting divorced because assumptions will be made that they are not serious about their careers and professional advancement. They will be assigned to the ‘mommy track’.  I have experienced this, failing to get at least one significant promotion and being overlooked for stretch assignments because of wanting to start a family or having small children.   Many women in teams find it difficult to speak up about their challenges in delivering on tough assignments whilst managing a sick child, or the trade-offs of being in that critical client meeting whilst missing your child’s music recital or history presentation. The challenges around child care, emotional labour and unpaid care work – which still fall predominantly on women’s shoulders – are seldom acknowledged. We make this invisible – working as if we don’t have children; and mothering as if we don’t have a job. And the costs are high.  The number of women who left the workforce completely in 2020/2021 is testament to this.  

Breaking this bias happens most effectively when leaders and teams are safe enough to show up authentically.  When leaders – men and women – deliberately adopt a family friendly approach. I have been working with a team where a senior (male) leader positioned he had a hard stop because he had to collect his children from school, and it created an immediate shift.  The bias around working parents not being career focused, high performers and supremely ambitious was cracked.

My invitation around breaking the bias is for each of us to explore what stereotypes emerge when we hear ‘working mother’. To get to know our team well enough to look beyond the label, to understand how to harness the full talents and aspirations of each team member; and collaboratively build workplaces where women – and men – can make their most significant professional contribution whilst also being a parent.

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