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Do we still experience bias, or is a digital office a safe space?

Break the bias, International Women's Day 2022
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Do we still experience bias, or is the digital office a SAFe® space?

It is International Women's Day. For 2022 the focus is breaking the bias. Bias erodes workplace culture, leading to disengagement, exclusion and lower productivity and trust. But with so many of our experiences happening in a physical work environment, we wondered, is it better in the digital office? 

So we thought we would ask colleagues about their experiences in the workplace, keep reading to discover what we learned along the way, and what they would like to see happening next.

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Boardroom banter

It wasn't that long ago; I was in a meeting where a silencing feature was referred to as the wife feature. Of course, it was a joke, but I didn't laugh. However, I did call it out, and I think that is the best we can do. Calling these things out at the moment is hugely helpful, and it's even easier to do so in the digital space. Though thankfully, I've not experienced this in a while. 

- Lou, Team Lead, Product Marketing, UK

The digital office is a great equaliser for meetings; the traditional boardroom hierarchy isn't there, so it is easier to speak up. If you don't want to speak up, you can always drop it in the chat or send a private message.

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The woman advantage 

I used to work as an Executive Recruitment Consultant; I was good at my job. I brought in many sales, but it was often suggested that it is easier to sell to men as a woman, you know, I can flirt. 

It dented my confidence for a long time. It made me doubt whether I was good at my job, despite evidence to the contrary. But then I found a mentor, and that was the game-changer. My advice for anyone doubting their ability is to find someone to cheer you on because you are better than you think you are. 

- Ara, Recruitment, Malaysia

It's not always easy to find your cheerleaders in a digital space. The casual kitchen chats are harder to replicate; our advice is to use the available tools to reach out, find yourself a mentor, and remember to share praise.

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Soft skills

I have endless stories to share about how in my twenty-year professional career, men and women have tried to patronise me. You cannot understand how complex a software engineer's/CEO/head of... etc. The way I chose to reply to those is by simply ignoring them and asking more questions about what they meant: "try me, I might understand, you never know".

It's hard when social structures still put family as the ultimate objective and happiness for women. But we just need to keep showing up. We are capable, we can understand, and we can succeed in technical and creative spaces.  

- Eleni, Team Lead, Product Marketing, UK

I've always worked in creative fields, and I love it. But to technical colleagues, my roles are often seen as unimportant or, worse, easy! You might say this isn't a gendered issue. Still, when you look around at the makeup of technical vs creative roles, there is a more significant proportion of women in the so-called soft skills creative positions. We need to reframe soft vs hard skills because being creative and compassionate, communicating and organised, is often the bedrock of success. So let's rally to rename soft skills to make things happen skills!

- Georgie, Team Lead, Content Marketing, UK

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Women's issues

Twenty years ago, many comments were made about being a parent and a working woman. When I turned down an extension of a contract to return home to my children, it was met with confusion and having children was seen as wasting my talents. Thankfully a lot has changed since then, but it is still hard. 

- Nisha, Business Consultant, UK

A lot has changed in twenty years. While we still have a long way to go to creating better shared parental leave, flexible and remote working allows women and men to shape work around the needs of their families. 

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A token gesture 

When I first progressed to a leadership team, I assumed I progressed because they needed to diversify the board. And as an Asian woman in tech, I was perfect, I ticked their diversity box. I hear these stories all the time, so I choose to advocate for underrepresented groups in tech and am pushing the effort in allyship. It is not enough to be a silent bystander anymore. If you see something, you disagree with, talk to someone, make an effort to change for the best.

- Sherry, Team Lead, Engineering, Canada 

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It's an educational piece

Thankfully, a lot has changed in twenty years. While we still have a long way to go to creating better shared parental leave, flexible and remote working allows women and men to shape work around the needs of their families. 

This time 100 years ago in the UK, women still didn't have the same voting rights as men (this didn't happen until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928), so we've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go. I'm looking forward to working with you all on how we can start to make change happen!

It can seem that there is such a mountain to climb with it, but if we can call out some of these things, we can start to make changes. Starting the conversation is the first step, and I'm pleased to already see the engagement in this topic. In other businesses I have worked in, there has been a feeling that it is HR's 'responsibility' to 'sort out the gender problem' - I mean, let's start by unpacking all of the wrong things with that statement!

For me, there is a big piece around education - and that's not just men, but also educating women on the invisible bias that we may not even realise.

- Lucia, Chief People Officer, UK

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Joining the conversation

I don't think as men we should stay out of the conversation! If anything, staying in it and listening helps us understand better what challenges women face every day. And I say "better" because no matter how much we try to imagine or place ourselves in their shoes, we can't truly understand it in the same way that they live it.

I used to get ruffled up when I heard discussions about the patriarchy and how better men have it than women. "Not all men are bad!" I'd think. "I'm a decent guy; why is everyone calling me an asshole for being a man?" Eventually, I realised that no one had called me an asshole. Not once. I had heard what they were saying, but I didn't understand it. No one hates men for being men. They hate that we live in a society that allows us to benefit and gain an advantage simply because we're men. We should hate that too. Conversations like these are a chance for us to listen, process, learn and empathise. 

- Danny, Managing Consultant, USA

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What's next?

Gender stereotypes or gender bias no longer feel like the correct phrases. Now things are more nuanced, and biases are more complex than the conversation allowed ten years ago. This IWD, we are hosting a panel internally to help open up the discussion of what bias means, who is it serving, and how can we collectively help break it. We will be rallying our alias, supporting each other and calling out views or comments that no longer serve any of us, not to be unkind, but to educate.

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About the authors

Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy

Content Marketing Manager