Every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) serves as a reminder that the economic, social, cultural, and political advancement of women around the world can only be achieved through collective action. From the female laborers protesting poor working conditions in the early 1900s to the public-private partnerships today that support STEM education for girls, we’ve watched how our shared efforts have made an impact.
This International Women’s Day, I am proud to be supporting Catalyst’s #BiasCorrect campaign, empowering women to correct mischaracterizations about their confidence and leadership. Tackling bias in the workplace is an area where we can all make even greater strides.
A Pew Research report found that among employed adults, women are almost twice as likely as men—42% vs. 22%—to say they have experienced discrimination on the job because of their gender. The inequities ranged from earning less for doing the same job, to being treated as less competent, to receiving less support from senior leaders.
Research by Catalyst and others have long shown that women are held to higher standards compared to male colleagues with similar abilities and must outperform them to gain equal recognition. Yet, Catalyst also found that women who demonstrate leadership qualities are subjected to labels with negative connotations like “aggressive” instead of “assertive.”
A few years ago, Yale University conducted a study to see whether bias among scientific researchers could explain why fewer women than men have careers in science. The study concluded that even scientists—those trained to reject subjective information—are not immune to gender bias. When it came to hiring, both male and female scientists were more likely to choose male candidates, rank them higher in competency, pay them more than women, and were more willing to mentor them over female candidates.
Oftentimes, we carry out these biases unconsciously, beyond our own awareness or control. In fact, as much as 95% of our brain is unconscious, and according to neuropsychologists, our unconscious brain works 200,000 times faster than our conscious brain.
So, how can leaders help break the cycle of stereotypes and biases in the workplace, especially as they relate to hiring and retaining talent, if they don’t even realize they may be reinforcing them?
In the 4th Industrial Revolution—where we see the fusion of our physical, digital, and biological worlds, and where we are all held accountable for our actions in and outside of work—it takes more than just traditional unconscious bias training. It takes a whole new approach to leadership: what we call inclusive leadership.
A Deloitte study found that leaders who modeled six inclusive leadership traits in their everyday behaviors not only helped promote diversity within their organizations, but also improved the capacity of their teams to innovate and navigate uncertainty. The traits are:
1. Courage: This is about taking personal risks to challenge the status quo, when necessary, and holding others accountable for non-inclusive behavior.
2. Cognizance of bias: We all have our blind spots or unconscious biases, and these can unfairly influence decisions. The key is becoming more self-aware to help drive better outcomes.
3. Curiosity: Without curiosity, we limit our learning opportunities. Continuous growth requires truly listening to and showing an interest in diverse viewpoints and ideas.
4. Cultural intelligence: Especially important for those who lead global, cross-cultural teams, we must seek opportunities to experience and learn about different cultures, and take in the world from a different lens.
5. Collaborate: We all believe in teamwork, but real collaboration happens when we open the floor and create an environment of respect, where everybody wants to work together.
6. Commitment: Staying the course is hard. Moving the needle with diversity and inclusion takes commitment from all us to incorporate these traits in our day-to-day behaviors.
As leaders, we’re often asked the question: “What is your leadership style?” I think we should all think about responding with: “I lead by following the ‘six Cs’.”
Cathy is the CEO of Deloitte, and chair of the Board of Directors of Catalyst, an organization dedicated to helping build workplaces that work for women, because workplaces that work for women work for everyone.
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