Zarese on her breakthrough bias moment
My #BreakTheBias moment was one I’ll never forget.
It took place in a seminar room as I was about to deliver a workshop to a room full of 30 men with seniority in their job titles. My (male) colleague Alex stood beside me, and as I surveyed the rows of chairs in front of me, I was acutely aware that I was one of only three women in the room. Cue the internal query, “Will what I present here today be heard, understood, and respected?”
That thought came not because I wasn’t confident but because Alex is a 6’2 man, and I am a 5’3 woman. His presence alone translates to ‘authority figure’. I could already sense that the participants were waiting for Alex to speak. When he did, he made a point of introducing me first with a snippet of my professional expertise. There was a noticeable shift in the room from that simple gesture alone. I had their attention.
Alex actively deferred questions to me throughout the session, further acknowledging that I was also an expert in our topic at hand (Workplace, of course!). By the end of the workshop the participants were actively addressing me. I had their respect.
It’s hard to describe how I felt after the session. It was a moment of feeling joy, gratitude, and support, and complete respect for Alex for providing that space for me, because he knew.
He knew that when it comes to gender equality, gestures and moments like these matter. They matter because they should be the norm.
I think it is incredibly important to understand the barriers and power dynamics that exist in the gender equality discussion, in not just professional settings but all settings. Particularly in professional environments, women need to query what can (and should) be facilitated with and by male counterparts to address and resolve perceived power differences, like the example above.
Relating to a person based on gender is a stone-age, stereotypical approach. When you look at a person as opposed to their gender, you’ll see everything they’re capable of, and more.
Alex on how he moves the needle for gender equality
I hate that this is still “a thing,” but gender bias exists, particularly in the more technical interactions and discussions in our day-to-day business. I’m immediately seen as an expert in my field as I’m male; however, my equally (if not more) qualified female counterparts have to fight for their every word.
So to break the bias, I sacrifice my unfairly gained position of power to put my female counterparts at the center of the discussions as the deserved subject matter experts. This doesn’t help the conversation progress quickly in initial conversations, but it does help change the perception of our team as a team of experts. This solidifies our position for future discussions and helps move the needle closer to a gender-neutral position.