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Leaders Interrupt Bias Whenever They See It
Organizations are replete with hierarchy, status, and judgment. Clear lines of authority coupled with a clarity regarding quality standards facilitate productivity and desired outcomes.
But the downside of authority and constant evaluation is real. The negative consequence of status and earned privilege, such as seniority, tenure, and leadership roles, is a workplace filled with unspoken biases against those who have yet to achieve the same status.
Bias shows itself in revealing, but often deceptively hidden, ways. Consider some common examples: People who immediately turn to a woman to be a scribe for a meeting. Inexperienced or junior team members who don’t get asked questions at meetings. Newly hired leaders who aren’t included in social gatherings. People of color who get overlooked for choice assignments. Suggesting an older teammate may not have the energy to complete a task. Asking taller or more physically attractive teammates to address the team or welcome customers. The list goes on and on.
The only line of defense against these unspoken biases is through the action of leaders.
Good leaders remain vigilant against the many biases that undermine inclusion in the workplace. They open their eyes and expand their minds knowing that status and authority, no matter who holds it, will inadvertently create distortions in influence. The job of leadership is to interrupt this bias whenever it is present.
Calling out unfairness or bias is one pathway, but it is not always easy to do. Others who are blind to the inequity can be caught off guard and hear any comment about the infraction as an accusation. This may create an awkwardness in the moment that makes others uncomfortable to the point of denial.
Perhaps the more powerful way to interrupt bias is for leaders to make sure the unevenness doesn’t stand. Ask someone else to serve as the scribe, insist underrepresented teammates get the choice assignment, and make sure everyone in a meeting gets asked their opinion.
Creating an environment where status, privilege, and authority don’t infiltrate the character of a team or organization requires a highly aware leader who has the courage to interrupt bias wherever they encounter it. Team members soon learn to follow suit. Perhaps the highest standard a leader can apply is to hold themselves accountable to reject bias.