The IT world has long been dominated by male voices. I’ve been in the channel since the beginning of my career — hard to believe that it’s been 17 years! I definitely base my current efforts in the diversity and inclusion space on challenges I’ve faced personally along the way.
We’re so fortunate in 2021 to have so many organisations that promote and support diversity and work to shine a light on the incredible contributions women are making in the technology world. But there’s work to be done internally in our organisations — simple, everyday efforts that we can implement to move the needle.
A diverse workforce requires attention to and celebration of gender differences, people’s varying backgrounds and experience levels, and so much more. Today I want to talk about one concept we employ at InfoSystems that really enables us to maintain a level playing field and ultimately enables our team members to contribute meaningfully to the success of our organisation.
Let’s talk implicit bias.
If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, you’ve probably heard of implicit bias. Essentially, implicit bias is unintentional, subconscious favouritism (or aversion to) a particular group or group of people. Although there are some striking cultural examples of implicit bias, in the workplace, it often pops up in seemingly innocuous moments, such as brushing off a team member from a different department if they have an idea that may benefit yours. You may not even think twice about this interaction — and your team member may not be offended by your dismissal — but what if you missed out on a great idea?
How we combat implicit bias.
At InfoSystems, our approach to curbing implicit bias is operating by the mantra: “Best Idea Wins.”
This concept sounds really simple, doesn’t it? Generally speaking, it is. But the most important element of successfully implementing this approach in your organisation boils down to one thing: actually allowing space for it to happen, over and over, until the effort becomes a habit.
Beyond saying the phrase or reminding your team that decisions are made based on the best idea, no matter who suggested it, there are a few additional steps you’ll need to take to make sure it doesn’t become a forgotten policy in an employee handbook.
- Think about individual personalities ahead of time. If every place of business was staffed 100% by people who felt perfectly comfortable speaking up in every setting, we would never get anything done! You likely have team members who contribute just as significantly to your bottom line that need a moment to process, who may share a thought hours or even days after a new idea has been presented. Think about ways to engage those people — and perhaps…
- Set some ground rules for discussion. Just like with implementing “Best Idea Wins,” this may take some practice. But the effort is worth it to ensure all voices are heard. Instead of blowing ideas off, normalise asking questions about a team member’s idea. A “bad idea” may not be so bad after a little clarification. Additionally, find ways that more naturally timid or less seasoned team members can contribute without fear of being shot down. The best way to do that is to…
- Discuss the policy one-on-one with your team members individually. It’s fine to give an overview of a new policy like this one in a group setting. But once everyone’s been made aware of the concept, be sure to talk to your direct reports one-on-one. Ask questions. Find out if they’d rather raise their hand instead of jockeying their way into a conversation or contribute via the chat feature on a video call. Having an understanding of how to create a comfortable environment for every member of your team inspires trust and creates space for vulnerability.
- Spend time talking about non-work-related topics. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to float from meeting to meeting and get straight to business in a video call. But we’re missing out on personal connections most of us were used to in in-office settings. Be intentional about that. When team members know that your dog barks at the worst times, too, or that you’re having a hard day with your child’s virtual school, they’re just generally more at ease.
Overall, “Best Idea Wins” helps employees feel engaged. Knowing that their voices are respected and valued, regardless of position, gender, age, or race, allows them to be more successful in their roles and contribute in a more meaningful way to the overarching success of our business.
I encourage you to try this with your organisation — and please don’t hesitate to share the great ideas you start hearing from your team.